Motorsport: Teammates making a gap at the top

By Eric Thompson

Whincup and van Gisbergen well-placed for Queensland Raceway.
Shane van Gisbergen is breathing down Red Bull teammate Jamie Whincup's neck as they line up for the Queensland race.
Shane van Gisbergen is breathing down Red Bull teammate Jamie Whincup's neck as they line up for the Queensland race.

Eight rounds into the 2016 V8 Supercar championship and it's still very tight at the top of the point's table. Six-time champ Jamie Whincup has a 53-point advantage over teammate Shane van Gisbergen in one of the closet fought seasons in memory.

There have been nine different winners so far and if Townsville was anything to go by, it's starting to look like Red Bull Racing Australia (Whincup and van Gisbergen have five wins between them) might just be eking out an advantage over the chasing pack.

Flying Kiwi van Gisbergen will be hard to beat. He's settling nicely into his new team and is becoming one of the most consistent drivers in the championship having finished inside the top 10 28 times in his past 30 starts.

"It's been a big change for me this year and I have really struggled to get the hang of the new car," said van Gisbergen. "At the recent test day we spent the time getting the car comfortable for me and not worrying about the lap times.

"We've made the car more balanced and easier to drive and when we got to Darwin it was a completely different car. We were quick there and just as quick at the next round in Townsville. Hopefully it'll be the same here [Queensland Raceway]. It should be as it's our home track and we've done a lot of laps around here.

"Racing is different to testing and everyone has been so close this year. Normally it's hard to pass here but this year with the format and so many tyres we have to use, there are so many different strategies we can have.

"The racing has been awesome and everyone is doing a great job. It's so much tougher this year and you have to turn up with the best car you can. As a driver it's cool to have so much competition and it makes the racing really exciting."

On paper and to the uninitiated, Queensland Raceway looks like a pretty basic track with just six corners. Affectionately known as the Paperclip because of its layout, the circuit is anything but simple. With its mixture of high speed and slow corners, the window for getting a racecar to be fast and well balanced through both is a mission in itself.

Qualifying well has been crucial where first to 20th has been covered by less than a second and will be vitally important this weekend as there are not many paces to pass. Fellow Kiwi Fabian Coulthard is looking forward to finding some consistency at DJR Penske Racing. He's been fast in flashes and is confident that if the team can get the car in the right window he'll be a top five runner.

"With a track with so few corners the field tends to bunch up a lot," said Coulthard. "There are only six corners to get right but they are all very different in their nature. Turn one and two are quite fast and then turn three and six are very slow. It's a tricky one that's for sure."

Defending champion Mark Winterbottom and his teammate Chaz Mostert may be the pole winning kings with three each, however they have not been able to convert these into race wins with just Winterbottom managing to get on top of the podium once.

The Prodrive Racing Australia duo will be the ones to watch, having made a clean sweep of wins last year. They will need to do the same this weekend if they want to keep Red Bull Racing honest, especially so with the third member of the team, Craig Lowndes, being the most successful driver at the Ipswich track. He has 11 wins, six poles and 13 podium finishes at his team's test track. Poised nicely in fourth place, a good race weekend could see Lowndes challenge the frontrunners.

The Nissans have been looking pretty sharp this year and it wouldn't come as a big surprise if the Kelly Racing outfit add to Michael Caruso's Darwin win. The SuperSprint format is on again and if past races are anything to go on, it'll again be a fast and furious weekend of racing. Remaining Kiwis Scott McLaughlin, Chris Pither and Andre Heimgartner are fifth, 21st and 25th respectively.

Supercars

Points after eight rounds

1. Jamie Whincup1545
2. Shane van Gisbergen1492
3.Mark Winterbottom1470
4. Craig Lowndes1392
5. Scott McLaughlin1374
6. Will Davison1335
7. Michael Caruso1209
8. Tim Slade1155

Pitstop

Evans revs up in Hungary

New Zealand GP2 racer Mitch Evans arrives in Hungary this weekend for round six of the championship. Despite a roller coaster of a season so far, Evans sits fifth in the title race just nine points behind leader Oliver Rowland. His Pertamina Campos team is starting to find some consistency and is poised to challenge for a championship.

Trio need result in Germany

The defending World Endurance Championship team of Kiwi Brendon Hartley, Aussie Mark Webber and German Timo Bernard really have to get a result this weekend at round four of the series at the Nurburgring. Sitting 19th on the table, the trio will be keen to emulate last year's race win.

McIntyre at Manfeild

Former New Zealand V8 champion John McIntyre is making his name in endurance racing these days. He and co-driver Simon Gilbertson are at Manfeild this weekend for the final round of the three-hour North Island Endurance series. The defending champion leads the series equal on points with Neil Foster.

Baird called up for Ipswich

Long time ex-pat racer Craig Baird's racing skills are still in demand. The Aussie-based Kiwi has been called up to replace Aaren Russell in the #4 Erebus V8 Supercar this weekend at Ipswich. Baird has 164 V8 starts and is a regular with Erebus as a co-driver in the Pirtek Enduro Cup.

Stoner quick on Ducati

Two-time world MotoGP champion Casey Stoner still has what it takes to punch at the elite level of the sport. Despite retiring from racing at the end of 2012, the now development rider for Ducati posted a time just 0.6secs behind factory rider Andrea Innone and was quicker than Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo during testing.

Under the hood

Not being an overly big fan of Formula One hasn't precluded a sense of joy that one of the great battlers in F1, Sauber, has hauled itself back from the financial abyss. Everyone loves a battler with no global corporate backing. Owner and founder Peter Sauber has been a fan favourite for years taking it to the big money teams a times giving them a black eye. Swiss company Longbow Finance has bought the team's holding company and although Sauber himself will retire, the name will live on.

- NZ Herald

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