I was at the launch of the 2018 Supercars' drivers at Fox Studios in Sydney last week and the category do really know how to put on a show. The best thing for New Zealand is there are five full time drivers in the line up and all of them are capable of winning a race, and three of them are title contenders.
Andre Heimgartner is back in the fray after a year away and Richie Stanaway has a seat at the top table with Tickford Racing (rebranded Prodrive Racing Australia). Heimgartner was quick at times during his first foray in the category and Stanaway has already made folk sit up and pay attention with his stunning drive as a co-driver in the Pirtek Enduro Cup last year.
Shane van Gisbergen already has a championship title, Scott McLaughlin threw his title away at Newcastle and Fabian Coulthard has been there and there about for the last three seasons.
The TAB in Australia has McLaughlin as favourite to win ahead of Jamie Whincup with Van Gisbergen in third and Coulthard fifth. So there you have it. The odds makers have three Kiwis in the top five to win the 2018 championship. How good is that?
For me however, it was Stanaway's take on the difference between racing a factory-backed Aston Martin Racing GT car and the new generation Supercars. I'll put my hand up and admit his immediate answer was not what I was expecting.
"These [Supercars] are so much better engineered than the Aston and much better to drive,' he said.
Well, I could have fallen off my chair.
I knew the category owners had introduced their Car of the Future in 2013 and then the Gen2 Super car in 2017, but they still looked like big taxis with the aerodynamics of a brick. Before anyone gets on their respective high horses about the aero of these things, have a watch of Whincup holding off the chasing pack in a car that was about a foot shorter than it should have been and a front end that looked like it had been punched by the Hulk.
I hadn't quite realized that cars may still look a little like something out of the late 1990s, but had in fact highly engineered chassis, suspension, brakes and balance akin to the best anywhere in the world. And here's me thinking that factory a Aston Martin was the bee's knees.
Stanaway went on to say that the Supercar feels better to drive than most other things he has in the past. The mechanical set is so good that you get the most out of the tyre and it's satisfying to drive.
When he was at Aston Martin the car was never engineered that well, didn't handle that well, had a load of balance issues and was not fun to drive.
Stanaway is pretty handy in a Supercar as he's already proved. He won't be scared of the guys who have been punting these things around for a while as he's use to being beaten up all over Europe in GT racing and single seaters. He likes the car, and as a main game rookie must be well chuffed he's with a good team that will give him something he can win in.
Can't wait until March and the opening round at Adelaide.
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