The performance of Shane Van Gisbergen and Red Bull Racing over the weekend makes me think they are the favourites to win this title.
I think I said after the first round way back at the beginning of the year that Van Gisbergen was the guy to beat and I've only seen more evidence to back that up. He has moved up to second in the standings after Townsville and is just 53 points behind teammate Jamie Whincup. Had he not made a couple of minor mistakes this year he would be leading the championship.
He had a small mistake way back at the beginning of the year at Symmons Plains when he hit some oil while leading the race and went off the track. It was costly because he would have had a double race victory there for sure. He was very hard on himself with that situation - he was out in front and says he should have done a better job avoiding the oil. Well that is a tough one when you're the first car on the scene and you don't know how much is there and you position your car only to find out that it wasn't the right call. We've all done that before. He should have had 150 points in the bag that he doesn't have now. Then there was the Darwin thing at the previous meeting where he was penalized for passing Michael Caruso at the resumption of a safety car break before the race went green, which he will be kicking himself over. It was only a little error but it probably cost him another race win.
The result at Townsville on Sunday with Van Gisbergen was pretty significant. He was in control big time. The pace that he had was very strong and he had a lot of confidence in his car. His pass on Mark Winterbottom after an early safety car was vital and he basically controlled the race from that moment on.
As far as consistency goes Van Gisbergen, along with Whincup, might be fighting it out amongst themselves. It is not going to be a done deal for a very long time - it might come down to the last race - but they continue to find the little pieces that add up and that makes a difference at the end of the season.
Van Gisbergen is really thinking about his driving this year. He has been doing some pretty interesting things in the way he drives the car and his planning. He thinks a lot about what is going on and what he needs to do to minimize his loss and also put strength in his repertoire for the end of the race. On Sunday he decided against trying to drive away from Winterbottom after making that all-important early passing maneuver. The race was about conserving tyres so Van Gisbergen made sure Winterbottom was fairly close behind in Shane's dirty air at all times, which put more wear on the Ford drivers' tyres. They talk a lot about tyre management within the team. The experience of Red Bull Racing and just their knowledge of all of these situations is first rate.
The significant part of that was when they chose to leave Shane out initially when that first safety car came out. Van Gisbergen's engineer Grant MacPherson was in the pit lane watching the safety car and determined on Shane's position to send him past the pit entry which meant he had a free run all the way around the track and in the meantime it also allowed Whincup to pit and avoid having to stack. It is just those little tiny things that a lot of people don't see that make a big difference and those guys were onto that. Pro Drive Racing did the same thing with Mark Winterbottom in getting him to follow Shane for that extra lap too.
There has been a little bit of talk about Van Gisbergen and Whincup maybe running into problems as they begin to race each other for the championship but I don't think that is going to be an issue at all. They'll manage that very well. That is a forte of Roland Dane and his bunch of merry men. They don't expect those guys to be best mates but what they care about his having two of the best drivers - and they might have the two best in the category at the moment - working together to win as many races as they possibly can. I don't see that as an issue whatsoever. They'll let them race hard and if they need to call a team order they will do that. Whincup has been in this position before and it hasn't been a problem before and it generally brings the best out of him.