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Melbourne 400 qualifying format ‘most challenging’ of year

Simon Chapman

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Tuesday 10th March, 2020 - 6:00am

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Qualifying in Melbourne is expected to be tough

Qualifying for the Beaurepaires Melbourne 400 is expected to be tough with Supercars teams and drivers anticipating they’ll have just one lap to set a benchmark.

This year’s format once again sees the return of individual 10-minute qualifying sessions for the four races at the Albert Park Street Circuit.

Different for 2020 is that all four races will be 20 laps long rather than the split of 13-lap and 25-lap races seen last year.

Each race will be worth a maximum of 75 points versus the 50/100 split across the shorter and longer races seen in 2019.

The format presents a unique challenge for the drivers, putting emphasis on the qualifying for the sprint races that follow.

Qualifying for Race 3 and 4 of the season will take place back-to-back on Thursday afternoon with grid setters for Race 5 and 6 the next morning on Friday, also back-to-back.

Tickford Racing driver Jack Le Brocq said the format will put plenty of pressure on drivers to maximise their one-lap pace.

“It is probably one of the most challenging and one of the most stressful qualifying formats on the calendar,” Le Brocq told Speedcafe.com.

“With the way the circuit is and how long it is, you don’t get a second chance at it. The tires drop off after that first lap so you can make sure you nail it the first one.

“We saw last year or the past couple of years there’s been a few shake-ups in there with guys qualifying back in the field when they’ve got the speed to be further up.

“Everyone’s going to be in the same boat so it’s going to be a matter of nailing those laps and just getting the most out of it.

“It’s going to be pretty cool. It’s going to be pretty interesting to watch.”

At over five kilometres long, the circuit is the second largest on the calendar behind Mount Panorama.

Le Brocq said the venue is unlike any other on the schedule with several high-speed zones into heavy braking areas.

“It’s very open. It’s actually quite fast in terms of tracks we go to. There are five areas where we get quite a long way up at top speed and have some big braking time,” he said.

“It’s an interesting circuit. It’s got a bit of everything. I actually really enjoy it. It throws in a few curve balls there with how much degradation there is over a race distance.”

Ford Mustangs claimed all four wins a year ago, with Shell V-Power Racing Team taking three with Scott McLaughlin, and Chaz Mostert picking up the fourth in the Supercheap Auto entry.

Holden last tasted victory in 2018, a year which saw David Reynolds take a win for Penrite Racing.

“It’s like the shootout, everyone will be on a shootout lap,” team boss Barry Ryan told Speedcafe.com of the quickfire qualifying sessions.

“You have to get it done in your first lap because otherwise you’ll be down four or five tenths on your second lap.

“The way the cars are behaving now, there’s going to be a lot more emphasis on the driver just doing a nice, tidy job because there are so many corners there.

“There are so many opportunities to get it wrong. I think the driver that gets the corners 95 percent right will be on pole.

“The driver that gets half the corners 100 percent and the rest 75 percent won’t be on pole.

“You’ve still got to have a strong setup, but you’ll have to do a really good job to maximise your qualifying position.”

Supercars reconvenes over March 12-15 at the Albert Park Street Circuit for the Beaurepaires Melbourne 400 in support of this year’s Formula 1 Rolex Australian Grand Prix.

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