Symmons Plains an acid test for new Falcons
Prodrive’s Albert Park-conquering FG X Fords will be well and truly put to the test this weekend as the V8 Supercars Championship heads into territory dominated by the Red Bull Holdens last year.
The Pepsi Max entries of Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert cleaned up at the recent non-championship meeting at Albert Park, taking one-two results in qualifying and all four races.
The victories followed a mixed debut for the updated model Falcon in Adelaide, where Mostert was fast but crash-prone, and Winterbottom struggled with understeer for much of the weekend.
While the flowing, 5.3km Albert Park layout is in stark contrast to the 2.41km Symmons Plains bullring that is typified by two heavy brake applications, Prodrive team principal Tim Edwards is confident that key improvements will carry over.
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“Elements of it will certainly transfer,” Edwards told Speedcafe.com of the FG X’s turn of speed, which has been largely attributed to better rear downforce than the FG.
“It (the Albert Park result) was not just about the high speed corners. The car is definitely more stable under braking and that’s one of the key things the drivers feel is better with the car.
“You saw in Adelaide that we didn’t have the fastest car there, but every track requires different things and being fast across the variety of circuits is clearly one of the key challenges with the category.”
Symmons Plains will mark the first time that Prodrive has run all four of its cars in the new specification, with Andre Heimgartner’s Super Black entry upgraded ahead of the weekend.
Winterbottom, who led Mostert to the chequered flag in all four Albert Park races, is confident that the team has the basic package to compete at every meeting, regardless of circuit layout.
“If we go there (Symmons Plains) and get beat then we haven’t done a good enough job,” said Winterbottom.
“We’ve proven that we have a good car but on the day we just have to get it right.
“(The important thing is) the car is reacting to change and that’s what we’ve lacked for the last three or four years.
“We can actually tinker it and get a result. Good or bad, it’s actually doing what we think it should, so we know we’re starting to build our toolbox of changes.”
Red Bull enjoyed a comparable level of domination at Symmons Plains last year where, despite a clash in the opening heat, drivers Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes combined to win all three races.
The team is wary of its opposition’s improvements, but quietly confident in the ongoing strength of its own package on circuits like Symmons Plains.
“The Prodrive boys had a really good set-up at Albert Park, which is a credit to them because they maintained the pace throughout the weekend,” said Lowndes.
“But we won’t know how good they are until we get to Tassie and a couple of other tracks to see if they keep that form going.
“Our cars were obviously very good there last year and we fully believe they will be again this year.”
“They did a good job at Albert Park,” concurred Red Bull team manager Mark Dutton, “but it doesn’t mean you’ll roll into Tassie and smoke everyone.
“Generally from our experience there’s not a lot you’ll take from there to Symmons. There are some tracks you group together and some you don’t and those are two that you don’t.
“It’s really, really hard to say who will be our main opposition this early,” he added as the team chases a fifth consecutive drivers’ championship.
“Prodrive are there every year and there’s no reason they won’t be there all year, especially with their new aero package.
“But it should be all the usual players fighting. HRT were good at Clipsal and pretty good at Albert Park and there are a few other guys, including Scott (McLaughlin) in the Volvo who are right there on speed as well.”
While neither Red Bull car finished any higher than fifth across Albert Park’s four races, Dutton said that the team had not been testing new components and had simply failed to tune the cars to the track.
Triple Eight has not won at Albert Park since 2011, but has taken victory in 12 of the last 19 Symmons Plains races, dating back to 2007.
The other wins in Tasmania during that time have been split between Brad Jones Racing (3), Ford Performance Racing (2), Walkinshaw Racing (1) and Perkins Engineering (1).