Triple Eight maintains it can dig itself out of a form slump at Phillip Island although team manager Mark Dutton admits the outfit cannot afford many more ‘expensive’ below par performances.
The reigning teams champions have unusually found themselves on the back foot having struggled to extract pace from their ZB Commodores at the Victorian circuit.
The squad has been throughly outclassed by championship rivals Shell V-Power Racing following a commanding one-two in Race 9 headed by Scott McLaughlin.
While Ford teams were expected to shine at the aero dependent Phillip Island, Kelly Racing has surprisingly provided the strongest offering against the red Mustangs.
In Saturday’s race Erebus Motorsport emerged as the best Holden runner with Shane van Gisbergen’s sixth the highlight of the weekend to date for Triple Eight.
Van Gisbergen has led the charge for the factory Holden squad although the Kiwi could only manage 10th in Armor All qualifying in which he still fared much better than team-mate Jamie Whincup.
Whincup has felt the effects of the struggles the most, qualifying only 17th for Race 9, more than two seconds shy of pole-sitter McLaughlin, before suffering a costly retirement due to a loose wheel.
Accustomed to success on a regular basis, Dutton had expected a tough weekend after a difficult pre-season test at the venue in February, but expects his team to bounce back for today’s conclusion to round four.
“We weren’t quick here at the test day, so we came in knowing it would be a difficult fight, so we had no misconceptions there at all,” said Dutton.
“You’re not happy after a day like that but we have had bad performances before and we know how to dig ourselves out of them.
“We just need to work hard, the mechanics will make sure the cars are put back together perfectly, and the engineers will tell them how to make them go faster, and we’ll go from there.”
Having lost ground to its rivals, Dutton is aware the squad cannot afford a repeat of the poor showings.
“No, definitely not, you can’t at any stage (afford many bad days), let alone when your opposition are raking in the points quite nicely, so no, it’s expensive as far as points go,” he added.
Reasons for Triple Eight’s struggles have been directed at the change from twin to linear springs as per Supercars’ new regulations.
Although it appears the drop off in performance compared to last year is not solely down to the rule change.
“No, not at all,” Dutton replied, when asked by Speedcafe.com if adjusting to the linear spring was the reason for the lack of pace.
“We’re trying to compete with other cars on the track and we’re trying to maximise.
“All the teams are doing a good job and making our job difficult; that’s what they’re there to do.
“They’re maximising, we haven’t maximised to that.
“We’ve improved the car since we were here at the test day, but not enough; we need to make it better again.”
Although disappointed by the drop in performance compared to this time last year, Whincup expects to fight his way out of the slump.
“Firstly, we win and lose as a team as we are all in it together,” said Whincup.
“Collectively as a group, we are not performing as well as we would like.
“We have certainly dropped off quite substantially from last season.
“There’s no secret, we are not hiding behind it and not saying it’s bad luck.
“We’re big advocates of making our own luck and it’s clear we’re not making any luck for ourselves right now.
“You can call it a slump, but we will fight our way out of it.
“We have a fantastic group of people that we consider ourselves to be a family and families work hard together to get each other out of a hole. So, that’s exactly what we plan to do.”
The WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint concludes today with Practice 4 kicking off proceedings at 0920 AEST.