13/04/2024
Supercars opened their 2024 championship at its most famous venue: Mount Panorama. Photo: Walkinshaw Andretti United

Supercars opened their 2024 championship at its most famous venue: Mount Panorama. Photo: Walkinshaw Andretti United

Supercars is a sport without its last champion. Or the one before that. Or the one before that. You have to go back to 2015 champion Mark Winterbottom before you find one on the grid.

The off-season was dominated by news and speculation around Brodie Kostecki and his yet to be confirmed departure from Erebus – and the category. Whatever the case, he wasn’t going to be at the season opener.

As such, the 2024 title is wide open. Did this weekend at Mount Panorama narrow down the championship shortlist?

Triple Eight are back to their best

Will Brown might’ve gone to a “better brand”, as Erebus boss Barry Ryan put it last year when the move was announced, but it’s a brand that’s been consistent in staying at the top of the Supercars pecking order for over 15 years.

And that consistency looks like it’ll prove itself again this season, with the team sweeping every session this weekend at Bathurst, and having four massive (literally) new trophies for display at Banyo.

The most likely championship battle is between Brown and teammate Broc Feeney. They now sit at one win apiece but are yet to fight it out on track. When they do, it’ll be interesting to see how Triple Eight will manage it.

There’s one other man who looks like he’s ready to take them on at this stage.

Chaz Mostert jumped to the lead on Sunday, before Triple Eight showed how important pit garage positioning is (remember, it’ll change from round to round this season) by putting Brown out just in front of the #25 Mustang as it cruised down pit lane.

Mostert couldn’t overcome the loss in track position but held onto second place, with Feeney behind. Two starts, two podiums.

Walkinshaw Andretti United might be Ford’s best chance this year if they can retain some consistency, something they’ve had problems with in the past. But the new engineering pairing between Mostert and Sam Scaffidi is working thus far.

Ford giants fail to fire

A lot of noise was made pre-season about this potentially being Cam Waters’ chance to finally challenge for a championship.

Based on this weekend, it isn’t.

He qualified 20th on Saturday, interrupted by yellow flags at the end of the session, and 18th on Sunday, making a mistake on his last run.

Being that far back in the field made him susceptible to first-lap chaos, and after nursing damage on Saturday for 33 laps, a broken spindle led to his left front wheel parting company.

Race control, having watched the wheel roll down the hill into the path of Mostert, finally decided to try out their new toy: the full course yellow. A perfect solution to quickly get back to racing, even if it came at the cost of potentially a three or four lap dash to the finish.

Tickford do have some pace in the car once they set it up into the correct operating window. Thomas Randle’s weekend also had a slow start but he ended up with a fourth place finish on Sunday.

Waters fans shouldn’t give up hope yet. Nor Randle fans, for that matter.

But over at Dick Johnson Racing, good qualifying results, with both cars making Sunday’s shootout, didn’t translate into points. Will Davison’s 10th place on Sunday was the team’s best.

Anton de Pasquale just kept dropping down the timing tower over the course of each race, losing 12 positions on Saturday and five on Sunday.

The one-lap pace is usually there, but like last season, race pace and tyre degradation are where the team must improve. The Ford homologation team currently sit second last in the team standings.

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The defending champions

Jack Le Brocq made it just over a kilometre in opening practice before his Camaro rolled to a halt, a scene that summed up Erebus’ off-season.

The team has lost their champion driver Brodie Kostecki, officially for just the first round but likely for the whole season. What caused the breakdown in the relationship between Kostecki and Erebus isn’t clear, and neither side are prepared to give details.

They’ve lost sponsors too, the striking red Coke Camaros have been replaced by mostly white paint jobs that fit better on a Super2 grid.

With Le Brocq and Todd Hazlewood at the wheel, Erebus were out to prove that despite all the upheaval, they were ready to build on their 2023 success.

What we saw at the weekend was the team starting to slip back into the midfield. So not a complete implosion, but it doesn’t look like they’ll be going for a championship in the same way as last year.

Le Brocq and Hazlewood now sit in 11th and 13th in the championship respectively, but that’s not necessarily representative of their speed. Hazlewood was quick on Friday, and the drivers made one shootout each.

A tight midfield

Even though we’ve been through two races, the pecking order isn’t clear from Red Bull back. Eight teams were represented in each of the top ten shootouts.

It was a big weekend for the small teams. Matt Stone Racing, one of the minnows of the grid traditionally, is now third in the teams’ championship, even with Cameron Hill’s accident off the start in Race 2.

A couple of teams had one driver much more successful than the other. Both Team 18 and PremiAir Racing made headlines over the off-season with several high-profile personnel changes.

David Reynolds took little time to adapt to his new team, and was third in Saturday qualifying but suffered a puncture during the shootout. It led him to be eighth in Race 1, before following up with sixth in Race 2.

James Golding qualified sixth on Saturday but couldn’t get the car going for the formation lap, forcing a pit lane start. He put in a fifth-place finish on Sunday, despite getting tangled up with Feeney in the opening stages of the race.

Golding, who is now 10th in the standings, could’ve easily had a lot more points and possibly a podium to his name.

And the wildcard, Grove Racing. They’ll go to the Grand Prix second in the teams’ championship.

It’s been five years since Richie Stanaway last held a full-time Supercars ride, but with a fourth-place finish on Saturday, that wasn’t a concern. As long as you look past his hefty Friday accident, that is.

If they can maintain some consistency, with a young driver lineup that will continue to improve across the season, Grove may turn out to be a dark horse in this championship. And even if the heavy hitters like DJR and Tickford bounce back, they’ll have a real challenge on their hands from these ‘smaller’ teams.

A rough welcome for the debutants

Ryan Wood is the only driver on the grid who had never raced a main-game Supercar. Despite that, he looked quick to adapt. But the man who was third in last year’s Super2 championship is yet to shake the curse of the second WAU car.

He would’ve been in Saturday’s shootout had he not come across yellow flags at the final corner, and was just over a hundredth of a second off making it on Sunday.

And through mostly bad luck, he’s yet to make it through a corner cleanly in his Supercars racing career, having been caught up in incidents off the start on both days.

Jaxon Evans, who impressed last weekend at the wheel of a more familiar Porsche 911 GT3 car, might need some more time to tame a Supercar.

Despite sliding into the wall at the Dipper late on Sunday, he managed to finish both races. But the same can’t be said for fellow Porsche product Aaron Love.

Small errors that you usually expect for a rookie unfortunately have big consequences at Mount Panorama, and Love found the wall twice at the Cutting on Saturday and once more at Reid Park the following day.

You can’t write any of these three off, though. Wood showed some of his potential earlier in the weekend, Evans is a Porsche factory driver and was fourth at the Bathurst 12 Hour a week ago, and Love will always be his team’s first race winner, with a Super2 win at this very place last year.

Some other talking points

The harder tyres meant drivers weren’t in conservation mode as much and it led to that high-pressure finish on Sunday, where Brown, Mostert and Feeney were all pushing to the limit.

Supercars may reconsider their decision to run the softer compound in October. Sure, Super2 cars were faster due to their higher levels of downforce, but isn’t the quality of the racing the most important metric? The drivers seem to agree.

That said, most of the racing this weekend was done in the pit lane and sprint racing at Bathurst continues to be processional. Perhaps a warm summer’s night in Sydney before the football season is a better way to go for a flashy season opener.

Our championship challengers for this year are definitely the two Red Bulls, probably Mostert, and Tickford still have a shot too. Keep an eye on Reynolds, Golding, the Groves and the MSR cars who might surprise from time-to-time. And Erebus isn’t dead either.

The Supercars Championship moves on to Melbourne in support of the Australian Grand Prix, in four weeks, March 20 to 24.

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