V8 Supercars teams and drivers admit they’ll be under immense pressure when the ITM 500 kicks-off at Pukekohe, with just a single 30 minute practice session set to take place prior to qualifying.
The unique format has been introduced this year in order to stage an opening 100km on the ANZAC day holiday.
It will mark the first time that the championship has raced on ANZAC day and the first time it has held a points paying race in Australasia on a weekday.
CLICK HERE for a look at a range of ANZAC tributes being sported by teams this weekend
Track action will not take place until 11:30 on Friday morning due to the ANZAC day festivities.
The opening 30 minute practice will be followed immediately by a 20 minute qualifying hit-out and the first of the weekend’s four races.
The format will place a premium on starting the weekend with a strong base set-up and will prove extra challenging for those with limited experience of the circuit.
Six drivers – Jack Perkins, Robert Dahlgren, Nick Percat, Scott Pye, Chaz Mostert and Dale Wood – are yet to compete in a V8 Supercars Championship race at the venue, although all bar the Swede have raced at the track before in other classes.
The rapid-fire start to the weekend had been scheduled pre-season and was unaffected by the recent reduction of practice to three 20 minute sessions at most events.
“It’s going to be really tight for all the teams; it’s a long way to go for not much practice,” last-start winner Mark Winterbottom told Speedcafe.com of the format.
“We can bitch and moan about that, but it’ll be the same for everyone and at the end of the day the fans want to see more racing.
“We’ll see who comes out with a good base set-up. Whoever is strong out the gate and can then just fine-tune will be looking good.”
“It’ll really show who’s done their homework,” added Erebus Motorsport team manager David Stuart, whose squad also chalked up a race win three weeks ago at Winton.
“Not only is there limited track time but the gaps between the sessions are very tight as well, with just two hours separating the start of practice and the start of the race.
“How you roll the car out (for practice) will be very close to what you have for the race, weather it works for you or not.”
Drivers such as Nissan Motorsport’s Michael Caruso say they are looking forward to getting down to racing as soon as possible.
“I enjoy the limited (pre-race) track time. As a category and as drivers, we’re at a high level, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to roll them out of the truck or plane and be straight on top of it,” he said.
“ If you have everything in order prior to practice, you won’t need to build up to the pace – you’ll be on it from the word go.
“This is the way of the future, as far as I’m concerned, and it reminds me of racing in go-karts.
“We’d have a five-minute carbie session and then you’re straight into the racing!
“Most of all, the Friday fans will be the winners. They want to see the cars out there competing for keeps. I’m looking forward to it.”
The format for Saturday and Sunday at Pukekohe roughly follows the new-for-2014 Super Sprint format.
Saturday sees a 30 minute practice, back-to-back 10 minute qualifying sessions (reduced from 15 minutes each during to the recent chop) and two 100km races.
A 20 minute qualifying session and 200km finale will follow on Sunday, marking the longest race that the cars have ever tackled at the Auckland circuit.
Last year saw four 100km races held at Pukekohe, with Garry Rogers Motorsport (Scott McLaughlin), Triple Eight (Jamie Whincup), Ford Performance Racing (Will Davison) and Brad Jones Racing (Jason Bright) sharing the victories.
All 25 V8 Supercars and related equipment have already been airfreighted to New Zealand, with teams set to begin unloading their containers this morning.
Today will also see track action for the local support categories, which consist of V8 SuperTourers, NZV8s, V8 Utes, Central Muscle Cars and GTRNZ.
VIDEO: Speedcafe TV Pukekohe preview
See below for Speedcafe.com’s ITM 500 Auckland Form Guide