Drivers have delivered mixed views on the state of Sandown’s esses complex following the introduction of safety upgrades which have taken place since Supercars’ last visit.
While the esses represented a safety concern due to the regularity of large crashes there, there is a feeling that what was an exciting section of the historic Melbourne circuit has been blunted somewhat.
Drivers have also suggested that the nature of the run-off area and the difficulty in sighting the actual race track will lead to issues regarding track limits.
Andre Heimgartner, who has already experienced Sandown since the upgrade having raced in the TCR round in September, is disappointed about the loss of a challenging element of the track.
“It’s good and bad, I think,” the Kelly Racing driver told Speedcafe.com.
“I suppose, from a safety point of view, it’s a good step, but from a driving point of view, it gets rid of that edgy element to it.
“Before, there was that one racing line and if you just went off that, you were a bit stuffed, whereas now, you can afford to make quite a big mistake on entry and you can just sort of go wide and join back on.
“Also now, you can just cut behind that big kerb that’s there – which you couldn’t do before because there was all grass – easily.
“So I think it’s taken an element out of the track that we loved, and now I would try and go side-by-side with someone through there and just see what happens, because it is possible to pull up, and in TCR I saw the move happen heaps of times.
“It’s interesting, but I suppose they had to do it eventually, for safety.”
Lee Holdsworth held a similar opinion, including that drivers would be encouraged to run two-wide through what was necessarily a one-line only complex.
“I think there are some positives and negatives to it,” the Tickford Racing driver told Speedcafe.com.
“I think that it’ll promote drivers to try to go two cars wide, so the car on the outside will try and hold the outside, and if they’re not going to make the corner, they can now just bail and go straight through Turn 7 (the right-hander in the esses) and probably lose nothing from it.
“I also think they’re going to have a few problems with the track limits there at Turn 7 now; I think you’ll be carrying a lot more speed through Turn 6 and end up wider out of (Turn) 6 because it goes back to the old surface, and then cut through Turn 7.
“I didn’t see any shortcut (timing) loops through there, so whether they’ll have a judge of fact down there, I’m not sure.”
Fabian Coulthard told Speedcafe.com about newfound risk-taking, “It’s the unknown, I think. I’m sure people will have a crack.
“The fact that there is a (tarred) surface there does give you an ability to go through there two-wide. It turns to dirt eventually, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
The DJR Team Penske driver also foresees that there will “probably” be an issue with track limits, adding, “We have track limit dramas everywhere, so we may have just created one for ourselves.”
Both Holdsworth and Coulthard also identified a vision problem, although for different reasons.
“It’s very difficult to see now where the outside of the track is as you approach Turn 6, because all you can see is bitumen,” explained Holdsworth.
“You can’t see the outside line until you’re into the corner itself.”
Coulthard, who generally supports the changes, identified a new armco barrier on driver’s left as a challenge.
“Visibility, through the corner, is probably not quite as good with that armco barrier on the left-hand side,” he said.
“It’s just something we’ll have to contend with, get used to, I guess.
“Normally you come through there and you can see through that corner no problem, but obviously the barrier on the left’s made the visibility through the corner a little bit tougher, but I think what they’ve done is good.”
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship Practice 1 at the Penrite Oil Sandown 500, for co-drivers only, starts at 1035 local time/AEDT.