There will be a few nervous drivers and team owners at Sandown this weekend for the first of the Pirtek Enduro Cup rounds. These next three rounds - Sandown 500, Bathurst 1000 (October 8) and Gold Coast 600 (October 22) - will have a major influence on who will be crowned the best V8 driver in 2017.
There are probably five serious title contenders (Scott McLaughlin, Jamie Whincup, Fabian Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen and Chaz Mostert) who will be desperate to grab as many points as possible over the next three races to solidify their position on the point's table, before the sprint fun and games start again in Auckland at the ITM SuperSprint, November 5.
Ordinarily teams are relatively settled and have a game plan locked in when they just have to worry about their regular drivers. The drivers themselves are pretty much okay as they can set the car up how they like. There is a whole new basket of variables introduced into the mix when you put a co-driver into the car.
While not casting any aspersions on the talented line up of co-drivers, they are to a certain extent not as proficient, nor had the track time, as the main game drivers. One could especially say that about someone like Alex Premat who is sharing duties with McLaughlin.
Last year the talented Frenchman was given a bit of a dust up by some in the press, but he came out swinging doing what he does in the car. And lo and behold he and Van Gisbergen triumphed winning the Pirtek Enduro Cup. By doing so Premat was instrumental in launching the Kiwi to his first Supercars title.
This year Premat has moved teams and is suiting up alongside McLaughlin, who just happens to be leading the title race.
"I really enjoyed driving at Red Bull and helping Shane win the Cup [Pirtek Enduro]," said Premat. "I'm really looking forward to being with Scott and also helping him win the Cup and maybe even helping him to his first championship.
"Testing has gone really well and I am very comfortable in the car. It can sometimes be hard to change teams but it has gone very well as both teams [Red Bull Holden and DJR Team Penske] are really professional.
"It also helps that Scott and I have similar driving styles so car set up is not too much of a problem for it to be good for both of us."
Some might ponder why Premat would want to leave an outfit where he had previously won to jump to a relatively new team, albeit with the might of the Penske racing behemoth behind it. You have to remember though, Premat was a teammate of McLaughlin's back in days when they both raced at Garry Rodgers Motorsport and partnered him in the Volvo. Also, Penske is an American-based company, which might have something to do with it.
"Red Bull had made me an offer to stay again this year and DJR Team Penske also made me an offer. It was hard to make the decision as I enjoyed racing with Shane and being part of Red Bull.
"I have lived in America now for two years and the opportunity to build a relationship with Penske made more sense.
"I have been doing a little racing in the states but would like to do more next year. They [DJR Team Penske] might be a young team in the Supercars championship, but they have a great reputation and along history in America.
"Although I enjoyed my time at Red Bull it was too good of an opportunity to not too take. Also, I'd like to help Scott win a title. If he does that it will be two New Zealanders I have helped, and maybe next year I can drive with Fabian to make number three!" he said laughing.
On paper McLaughlin and Premat's strongest challenge will be from the Whincup/Paul Drumbell combination. They have paired up for a number of years and Drumbell is a regular in the Development Series.
Van Gisbergen is with Matt Campbell who has tested well and is on fire racing Porsches in Europe. He may be young but being to stay with the best in Europe is a good indicator he'll go well at Sandown.
Coulthard is with Tony D'Alberto, who is no stranger to the main game having been a regular in the past. His knowledge of the cars, the track and the series will make them a formidable pairing.
1. Scott McLaughlin 2058
2. Jamie Whincup 2046
3. Fabian Coulthard 1951
4. Shane van Gisbergen 1800
5. Chaz Mostert 1794
6. Mark Winterbottom 1503
7. Craig Lowndes 1446
8. David Reynolds 1395