My Clipsal 500 preview in The West Australian from 2016. A few names have changed – and the V8s are now the Virgin Australia Supercars, and some drivers and teams have done the annual musical chairs, including Garth Tander. All eyes on 16-year-old Perth lad Alex Rullo, who this weekend becomes the youngest ever Supercars driver. And, of course, the 2017 Perth SuperSprint at Barbagallo Raceway is May 5-7. For mine, the Clipsal 500 still holds the crown for the best run event on the Supercars calendar.
BATHURST ASIDE, the Clipsal 500 is by far the most punishing of the 15 championship events V8 Supercar pilots have to confront during 2016.
Once upon a time I had the privilege of travelling the country following Australia’s premier motorsport class, interspersed with the odd trip to exotic venues like Bahrain and Shanghai. Airports and living out of a suitcase never did hold much appeal. Now I’m pretty much a contented couch warrior knowing the talented team handling the television coverage will have all angles covered.
Come March the V8 circus will again lay claim to those lush parklands smack bang in the centre of South Australia’s charming capital. The carnival atmosphere is heady and the Croweaters lap it up, still steadfastly trying to hide the grudge they hold against those pesky Victorians who did the most unneighbourly act imaginable by nicking the coveted Australian F1 Grand Prix way back in 1995.
You might well recall how chuffed the SAs were when it was announced it had set an F1 raceday worldwide attendance record of 210,000. Too late, though. The Vics had chatted up Bernie, and the race had bolted.
Brit Damon Hill – son of the great Graham Hill – took the honours and joined Alan Jones and his old man Stan, as the only father-son combo to win the AGP. It was also notable for Mika Häkkinen (father of Ferrari’s Kimi) smashing his McLaren into the concrete during practice and a nearby spectating doctor performing a trackside operation which probably saved the Finn’s life.
Anyway, the SA Government’s marketing arm spent a couple of years marshalling its troops after its devastating loss, channelling all its F1 experience into what to do next. They did a deal late ’98 with the then Australian Vee Eight Supercar Company for what was known as the Sensational Adelaide 500, replacing the existing Mallala round.
The dictatorial AVESCO held a spooky amount of power in the sport in those days, particularly over circuit operators. If you wanted a V8 round, you played ball.Incidentally, the 500 very nearly ended up in an embarrassing balls-up on debut in April 1999.
You see the regulations stipulated the event was one 500 kilometre race with an overnight break after 250kms. The official sphincter began to tighten during that first day as the concrete walls took their toll and more and more cars retired, and reality dawned. There are those who firmly believe the first rule is that you can’t change the rules midway. And there are those believe anything goes.
The latter view prevailed, the regs changed overnight, and those ailing V8s re-joined the Sunday race, eventually won by Craig Lowndes who has never achieved that feat since.
The Supercars hierarchy still hold the belief every circuit operator should aspire to the lofty heights the Clipsal 500 manages to present, time and again. And rightly so.
Ironically, Adelaide always hosted the last F1 race of the season while Melbourne, since ’96, has the first and now has the iconic race nailed down through to 2023.
With Perth recently experiencing a 40C+ heatwave, it’s worth consider that drivers in Adelaide are likely to experience a searing and sapping 60C in the cockpit – a primal test of endurance for any athlete.
Those concrete barriers simply add to the gruelling experience and contribute mightily to Clipsal’s past record of most DNFs.
With 2017 thrown wide open to change for the V8s, this year sees a reduction to four marques now Erebus Motorsport has switched from its Mercedes-Benz E63 AMGs to VF Commodores.
Garth Tander flies the flag for West Aussies with the Holden Racing Team, his 18th full-time year in V8 Supercars.
“I’m extremely optimistic about the year ahead,” Tander said. “We ended 2015 with a lot of strengths – our race pace, strategy and tyre life were very good, but we were also well aware of our weaknesses. The focus during the break has been on making improvements in certain areas – in our qualifying speed and our set-up for flowing circuits with testing this week.”
They’ll all be chasing the Prodrive Racing Australia Ford FG X Falcon of defending drivers’ champion Mark Winterbottom as the countdown to the Perth SuperSprint May 6-8 begins.
Check out wascc.com.au for ticketing info.
EDITED by AC.