RACES 28 AND 29 – COATES HIRE SYDNEY 500
Homebush Street Circuit, Sydney Olympic Park, New South Wales
3.42 km (2.13 mi) street circuit
Race 28: 74 laps, 253.08 km, start time 3:45 P.M. (11:45 P.M. EST Friday)
Race 29: 74 laps, 253.08 km, start time 3:40 P.M. (11:40 P.M. EST Saturday)
2015 WINNERS: Jamie Whincup (Race 35), Shane van Gisbergen (Race 36)
The 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars season concludes this weekend with a final trip to Sydney Olympic Park. Rising event costs mean that this weekend’s edition of the Coates Hire Sydney 500 will be the last ever; the season finale moves to a new street circuit in Newcastle for 2017. Still, history can be made over the course of the weekend, as Jamie Whincup could rally from a 191-point deficit to claim a record-extending seventh VASC championship – or Shane van Gisbergen can become the first New Zealander to win the series crown in 25 years.
The track in Sydney is notable for its varying degrees of difficulty within a single lap. There are other tracks that are consistently easy or difficult throughout a lap, but there is no track on the series schedule quite like this one where a relatively easy corner can be followed by a tricky section of track. This is largely in part to the varying width of the circuit; in some places, drivers can potentially go six-wide, but in other spots, there is maybe a lane-and-a-half of racing room.
A lap at Homebush starts with a long run down Australia Avenue. This is a wide boulevard, but the first part of it gets spit between the racing surface and the pit lane. The walls along this road account for this by widening the racing surface ever-so-slightly adjacent to pit lane, and then creating a “pinch point” at the exit of pit road to get drivers back onto the main road. While drivers can get pinched at the exit of pit road, the entirety of Australia opens up to drivers at that point, and the racing surface opens up from two lanes to six. Drivers will hit nearly 240
Drivers will hit nearly 240 kmh before braking down to 80 kmh to make the first corner, a square left-hander. The track also narrows down from six lanes back to two at this point, so Turn 1 has a massive funneling effect on the field, especially at the start of races. It is a virtual guarantee that someone will try to divebomb the first corner on the first lap to gain a few positions; whether or not the move works out is entirely dependent on if said drivers can keep from making contact with those who are on their outside.
After Turn 1, it’s another run down a straightaway that is almost as fast as the first: drivers will hit 220 kmh before arriving at the Coopers Chicane, a slow left-right-left combo. Though it follows the same pattern as the chicane on the back straight at Surfers Paradise, the turns in this chicane are far more pronounced. Drivers cannot attempt to straightline their way through here; each turn must be taken individually.
Following the Coopers Chicane is another straightaway run to Turn 5. This turn is essentially a smaller version of the sweeping right-hander on the back straight in Adelaide; the key is to hold as much speed as possible through it, though that is much easier said than done. Exiting that corner leads almost directly to a square right-left chicane that drivers will be braking for almost immediately after they make their way around the bend.
From that chicane, it’s another straightaway run to Turn 8, which is every bit as square as Turn 1, but features a wider corner radius than any of the other corners on the circuit. Likewise, this corner is just a shade longer to get through than any of the others, and thus earns distinctiveness from all of the other ones on this circuit.
After Turn 8 comes a run down Dawn Fraser Avenue, which is notable for its slight changes in elevation. On a track that is mostly flat, this straight actually sends drivers up, down, up and then down again as they come to the left-hand Turn 9. Outside of the run to Turn 1, which is slightly downhill, this is the only elevation change worth a mention on this circuit.
Turn 9 is followed by a short chute and a right handed Turn 10 that is identically square. This places drivers on Murray Rose Avenue and allows them to bypass the train station on the right. Drivers will reach 170 kmh before they reach the Turn 11/ Turn 12 complex, which is a mirror of Turns 9 and 10 that puts drivers briefly back on Dawn Fraser Avenue. Once back on Dawn Fraser Avenue, drivers barely have a chance to straighten out their wheel before preparing for the final left-hander on the circuit, Turn 13. After exiting this square corner, cars come back on Australia Avenue and blast by pit road to complete a lap at the Homebush Street Circuit.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
There are many storylines to follow this weekend, but the obvious one is the championship fight. Shane van Gisbergen leads his Red bull Racing Australia teammate Jamie Whincup by 191 points going into the weekend, and 300 points are available in total for drivers this weekend. As it stands, this is absolutely van Gisbergen’s title to lose: should Whincup win both races, van Gisbergen only has to finish 16th in both races, or fifth in one of the races, to become the first new champion of the series since James Courtney won in 2010.
The nice thing for Supercars fans (and bad news for Whincup) is that van Gisbergen should be fighting for the title at the front of the field alongside his teammate. The two have simply owned Homebush since 2013; Jamie has won all the Saturday races, and Shane has won all of the Sunday races here. The odds, then, should be high that van Gisbergen –barring mechanical issues, penalties, or accidents – should become the 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars champion on Saturday with a podium finish (which would also clinch the title for him).
Elsewhere down the grid, there are many notables worth mentioning. Craig Lowndes would secure the first ever 1-2-3 points finish for Triple Eight Race Engineering if he can secure third in the points standings with his Team Vortex Holden Commodore. He will be fighting for that position with Wilson Security Racing GRM’s Scott McLaughlin, who will run his final races for the team this weekend after they gave him his first ride in Supercars four seasons ago. McLaughlin and teammate James Moffat will contest Volvo’s final races in the championship as well, as the Swedish manufacturer will exit the series following the 2016 campaign.
Meanwhile, Jason Bright will run his 98th and final round of Supercars racing for Brad Jones Racing this weekend. Bright joined BJR in 2010 and will take his Britek Motorsport Racing Entitlement Contract elsewhere for the 2017 season. Nick Percat will also create history for himself, as he makes his 50th round start in Supercars this weekend. It will also be his last start for Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, as he moves to Walkinshaw Racing for 2017.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit http://supercars.com.au/.