The last of the short-form V8 Supercar hit-outs before the endurance rounds start is this weekend at the Sydney Motorsport Park - the revamped Eastern Creek Raceway.

Champion driver Jamie Whincup has his nose in front after eight rounds, but the resurgent Ford Performance Racing pair of Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison are breathing down his neck.

Whincup's TeamVodafone stablemate Craig Lowndes has been on fire of late, and after consecutive wins last time out at the Coates Hire Ipswich 300, has closed to within 80 points of Davison, while New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen is now 324 points further back.

The re-profiled Sydney Motorsport Park will be a bit of an unknown for the teams, as none will have any previous experience. So the teams that can quickly set up a fast car will have an advantage. This should suit Winterbottom, as he's already proved this year he can be fast out of the box.


"It's all going to plan, I guess, and we're only about 80 points off the lead," said Winterbottom. "Obviously we'd like to be leading but it's going as good as it can.

"It's coming to that time of year where it's heading towards crunch time. A few of the corners have been changed and we're treating it like a brand new track.

"It's a bit of danger round this one. You need a good base setup because practice is limited so the car needs to roll out of the truck and be quick straight away. That's what we've been good at lately, and that'll suit us."

With Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast - and the monster points available in those rounds - just around the corner, drivers and their teams are starting to concentrate on how to attack that particular problem.

"This round [Sydney Motorsport Park] is a bit of an annoying round because you're almost in enduro mode but you've still got to get through one more sprint round," said Winterbottom. "It's a little bit frustrating and a bit like football where you've made the finals, but you've got to play one more match because the finals are a week later.

"Of course every round is important and we have to make the most of the sprint rounds because the enduros are where a big chunk of points can go missing. You've also got to remember you're doing it with another driver - and sometimes a championship can be won or lost by the co-driver.

"You've got to make sure you find the right bloke that you can work with, and spend a couple of months getting it right.

"We'll be trying to get through the enduros and fight all the way until the end of the year. You've got to attack in both forms of the race."

Of the Kiwi drivers, Fabian Coulthard could be the one to watch. Most eyes have been on Shane van Gisbergen over the past year or so, and Coulthard has been shuffled around a few teams. But he has now found a good home at Brad Jones Racing in the Lockwood Racing car.

Van Gisbergen has had an up-and-down year and is hanging in at fifth on the points table but has been lacking any consistency. Coulthard arrived at a new team, with a different car and crew and has managed to make the whole thing work from day one.

Of late, the Kiwi has been consistently placing in the top five and is on the cusp of making that step up on to the podium.

"Bucket list for this year is to win a race and get on the podium a few times and finish the championship in single figures," he said. "

My expectations have changed this year from being a consistent runner to now being a consistent top five runner, and that's good.

"Things have been going along quite nicely and will only get better."