The 2013 V8 Supercars championship title race is tight: the leading contenders for one of the most coveted trophies in V8 racing are less than a race weekend's points haul apart.
Heading into the opening gambit of the inaugural Pirtex Endurance Cup three-race series, championship leader Jamie Whincup, Will Davison, Mark Winterbottom and Craig Lowndes are separated by a mere 72 points. A further five drivers are all within 245 points of defending champion Whincup.
If this weekend's results only hinged on the performance of the drivers who have contested the championship so far, it's not beyond the realms of possibility for anyone with an understanding of motor racing to guess the result.
However, with each main game driver having to hand the keys over to a co-driver at some stage during the race, all bets are off. Since regular V8 Supercar drivers have been banned from pairing with fellow full time V8SC drivers the results have turned into a bit of a lottery and this weekend will be no different.
One New Zealand driver in particular is looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of a V8 Supercar. After 15 years racing V8s in Australia and winning four Bathurst 1000s along the way, Greg Murphy was without a full time gig but was snapped up by the Holden Racing Team to co-drive with former series champion James Courtney.
Murphy has tasted success at the Melbourne circuit in the past, winning back-to-back Sandown 500 titles for HRT in 1996/97.
"I'm pretty excited about the weekend and happy where it's all stacking up at the moment," said Murphy. "I've always had a lot of confidence in HRT and what they've been trying to achieve this year and that's why I was keen to get there. Their season didn't start out too good but obviously they've worked really hard and things are starting to look really good performance-wise.
"Things are good at the moment with the team but it's Sunday afternoon where it all counts. I can't wait to get back racing in the V8 Supercars and to be part of a team I have a lot of confidence in and respect."
Leading Kiwi in the championship Fabian Coulthard, who sits comfortably in fifth on the table, is 138 points off the championship leader Whincup. Coulthard has always had the pace to mix it with the best but this year has found the consistency needed to challenge for a title.
His Lockwood Racing team have given him a car that is fast, reliable and capable of winning, which the New Zealander has used to notch up a number of podiums this season including the odd race win.
"In a funny sort of way it's another race but this time I have to share my car with someone else," said Coulthard.
"But look, I've got good faith in Luke [Youlden] and he's performed well in the co-driver seasons."
Youlden has been a solid campaigner in the endurance races since 2001, finishing on the podium with Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison. He helped Davison to pole in 2011 and van Gisbergen in 2012 and wants a hat trick with Coulthard.
"We're much the same size and he knows what he has to do as I do. We'll be okay. And anyway he told me at testing he's going for a three-peat and not for me to cock it up," said Coulthard.
Lowndes could make history at this year's Wilson Security Sandown 500 and equal Peter Brock's record of nine wins in the annual pre-Bathurst endurance race. Brock won all nine of his races at Sandown, while Lowndes has won his across the three different venues that have hosted the annual 500km race in the V8 Supercar era. He's clocked up five wins at Sandown (1996, 1997, 2005, 2007, 2012), two at Phillip Island (2010, 2011) and one at Queensland Raceway (2000).
Pole will again be decided by a pair of qualifying races, though unlike previous years there will be no championship points awarded for the pair of 20-lap sprints. Cars will be gridded by their times in a 20-minute session, with either driver permitted to set the time.
2013 V8 Supercars Championship
1. Jamie Whincup - 1847
2. Will Davison - 1792
3. Mark Winterbottom - 1777
4. Craig Lowndes - 1775
5. Fabian Coulthard - 1709
6. James Courtney - 1687
7. Jason Bright - 1649
8. Shane Van Gisbergen - 1632