The 2018 Virgin Australia Supercars season launched in Sydney today with the full complement of drivers being paraded in front of a packed media audience.
There are six new faces in the roster for this season — Kiwis Richie Stanaway and the returning Andre Heimgartner as well as Super2 graduates Anton De Pasquale, Todd Hazelwood, Jack Le Brocq and James Golding.
Not only is it a bumper year for the rookies, there's also a decent crop of New Zealanders with the three regular main game drivers from last year - Scott McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen - joined by Heimgartner and Stanaway.
You'd be hard pushed not to reckon at least one of them is in with a good chance of picking up the championship title come November. On that note, Jamie Whincup and McLaughlin were on stage talking about their respective reflections on 2017.
"It was probably the hardest championship battle I've had," said seven time champion Whincup. "We had to fight every race and every round to just to stay in the hunt and the last round [Newcastle] was something else."
Instead of being down caste about what happened in that last race on the Sunday, McLaughlin was philosophical about the whole season. "I would never have thought I would be in with a chance of the championship at the beginning of the season.
"Unfortunately I came short in the last race. To be part of that amazing finish to the season with everything coming down to the wire is quite special. It was very cool and a proud moment for me to be in that position [fight for a championship on last day].
"Hopefully I can learn from it and bring that into this year," he said.
The returning Heimgartner is pleased to be back in the fray after a year out and reckons he's better for the time away. "It was a bit hard to watch a few races but personally it was good to get away for a while. I regained my enjoyment and confidence for the sport and I'm really pleased to be back and also in a factory team [Nissan Motorsport]," he said.
Stanaway has an impressive pedigree in both singleseaters and GT racing most recently with the factory Aston Martin team. He's been angling to get a full time gig in Supercars for a while and after impressive outings as a co-driver and the odd Super2 race has been snapped by Tickford Racing.
"During the last year I wasn't too sure if I could get a full time drive. It's good to be with a top team because normally as a rookie you don't get the luxury of being with a top team straight away.
"I'm now looking forward to getting out there and it's a little surreal heading to Adelaide [to race this time], as I've watched it so many times on television. I'm okay in the car and being up against the primary drivers all the time will be hard," he said.
Van Gisbergen is refreshed and rearing to go after spending some time back in New Zealand during the off season. "I had a really good four/five weeks at home so I'm refreshed and ready to go," he said.
"The guys have been working really hard on the new car and it's looking really good. Last season we didn't really understand the new tyre, which caused a few issues but the car was great.
"This year we're in a new car on an old tyre so we can now focus on learning the car. It's got all the right ingredients and I'm sure it will be good to drive."
Coulthard is looking forward to getting back to racing after his DJR Team Penske outfit won the 2017 team's championship. "This year again we'll remain focused and keep doing what we did last year," he said.
"Scotty and I worked hard last year and we'll do the same again. I've got a new car this year as Scotty had his last year. We'll just refine what we did last season and see how we go."
More importantly from a Kiwi perspective, there still hasn't been any word from ATEED as to what is happening with the New Zealand round of the championship. It's been about three months since anything has been said about a possible new three-year deal.
"Look, we've been talking to ATEED for some time now and we're still working through the details," said acting CEO Shane Howard.
"We're very close to making some sort of announcement and hopefully we can very shortly."
Not only is there a lot of new blood for the 2018 season there's a few other intriguing happen this year. The Melbourne 400 where points will be on offer over four races at the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix. The return of night racing at the Sydney SuperNight 300 and the first ever race at $110 million Tailem Bend track in South Australia.
Fans will also see the the introduction of the Holden ZB Commodore and a Holden V6 turbo engine will race as a wildcard entry at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. We also get a new multi-qualifying system at Tasmania and Perth SuperSprint events.
The 16-round season roars into action in Adelaide, March 1-4.
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