RACES 22 AND 23 – CASTROL GOLD COAST 600
Surfers Paradise Street Circuit, Surfers Paradise, Queensland
2.96 km (1.84 mi) street circuit
Race 22: 102 laps, 301.92 km, start time 1:55 P.M. (11:55 P.M. EDT Friday)
Race 23: 102 laps, 301.92 km, start time 2:25 P.M. (12:25 A.M. EDT)
2015 WINNERS: Shane van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb (Race 22), James Courtney and Jack Perkins (Race 23)
The title fight in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship shifts from Mount Panorama to the beaches of the sunny Gold Coast for the 25th anniversary of Queensland’s biggest event on the calendar, the Gold Coast 600. This round is the final round of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, the championship-within-a-championship to determine the best driver pairing during the three enduro races. However, it is also the third-to-last round of the season, and for the two men in the championship fight, it is nothing short of a huge weekend.
There are two simple truths to remember regarding the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit: no track on the Virgin Australia Supercars calendar is narrower, and no track forces drivers to use the curbs more than this one. This, along with the Adelaide Street Circuit, is one of two in the series to use the “curb strike rule”: drivers can only clip the curbs so much before receiving a warning for trying to use too much curb. Should a driver receive three warnings, they must come down pit road for a pass-through penalty. Fans should watch for this rule to affect the race, because one of the larger questions over the weekend is who ends up serving that penalty, and when they end up having to serve it.
Drivers begin a lap barreling down the pit straight before getting hard on the brakes to navigate the first set of chicanes. This set is a quick left-right, but is one of two places where the “curb strike rule” will be in effect. From there, it’s a quick run down to Turn 2, a 310-degree hairpin which is arguably the tightest corner on the entire schedule. The incredibly-tight nature of this corner makes it both an excellent passing opportunity and one of this track’s “hot spots” for accidents and Safety Cars.
Following Turn 2 comes another straight, though not as long or fast as the main one. This will lead drivers into the esses, which in this case are not a true set of esses, but rather a left-right-left chicane that is notorious for racing up curb strikes and causing accidents on-track. Drivers then come out of the esses into another straight with a slight dogleg right into Turn 5, a 90-degree left-hand turn that is about as textbook as you’ll possibly find. Turn 5 shares much of Turn 2’s penchant for passing and wrecking opportunities, so fans should watch for a potential Safety Car to come out of an incident here as well.
Exiting Turn 5 leads drivers into a very square section with short connecting straights and more 90-degree turns: one of these straights connects Turn 5 to Turn 6, which is another left-hand turn that is virtually identical to the one preceding it. An even shorter straight leads drivers into Turn 7, which is also a 90-degree turn, but right-handed. In this case, drivers only have enough time to get straightened out and set up their approach to Turn 7. Between Turn 7 and the final set of corners is another connecting straight, though this one is the longest of the three. Turns 8 and 9 represent the final corners on the circuit, the former being another tight left-hander before opening up to the latter corner, which is sweeping and gives drivers a great chance to build momentum for the blast down the main straight past the start/finish line.
DRIVERS TO WATCH:
This race will be mostly about the championship contenders: points leader Shane van Gisbergen and his teammate Jamie Whincup, both out of the Red Bull Racing Australia stable. Shane finished second in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and extended his points lead to 143, after a late-race penalty dropped Whincup to 11th in the final running order on the Mountain.
van Gisbergen is unquestionably in the best position he’s ever been to win the series championship this late in the season. What makes this weekend even more exciting for van Gisbergen is that no one has a better average finish than he does in the last two seasons of racing at Surfers Paradise (2.25, with two wins in that span). Furthermore, van Gisbergen has traditionally been at his best when the Supercars run on street circuits, and two of the final three rounds remaining take place on street circuits.
That being said, the statistics of Whincup at the Gold Coast cannot be overlooked. History is on Jamie’s side here: he has seven wins and twelve podium finishes here, both series-best marks. Both drivers should contend for the win on both days, but the main question is can Whincup finish far ahead of van Gisbergen to make a dent in the No. 97’s championship lead? The conventional wisdom seems to say that van Gisbergen will have to have a bad finish somewhere to make the championship race tight again. The problem for Whincup is that conventional wisdom also says that said bad finish will not happen here unless van Gisbergen has an unexpected and unforeseen problem.
Beyond the title fight, this race also has a penchant for producing surprise winners and podium finishers, especially in the Sunday race. David Reynolds and Dean Canto won the Sunday race three years ago, while James Courtney came back from a freak rib injury in the pits at Sydney Motorsport Park to win it in 2015. van Gisbergen himself won in a somewhat surprising result with TEKNO Autosport some two years ago.
Maybe it isn’t such a surprise, then, that the drivers in that TEKNO Autosport car now represent one of the best threats to win at Surfers Paradise outside of van Gisbergen and Whincup. Those drivers are Will Davison and Jonathon Webb, and they are coming off the biggest victory of their respective careers after claiming their first wins in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 two weeks ago. Davison and Webb both have one win on their own at this track, and could well win their first race here together this weekend. It is also worth noting that they lead van Gisbergen and his co-driver Alexandre Prémat in the PIRTEK Enduro Cup by six points, so that title will likely go to the very end on Sunday before it is decided.
For more information on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, visit http://www.supercars.com.au/.