New formats, limited tyre allocation, and mixed compounds have divided opinion in the Supercars paddock. In this week’s Pirtek Poll we want to know if you think it’s made for better racing.
If last month’s Sydney SuperSprint was only a toe in the water for what entertainment-focused racing might look like, then Supercars submerged itself at Sydney Motorsport last weekend courtesy of its mixed tyre compounds and tyre restrictions.
The second straight event at Sydney Motorsport Park saw an almost identical allocation of five sets of tyres split across qualifying, potentially a Top 15 Shootout, and three races with a mandatory pit stop to change at least two tyres.
However, this time teams were given three sets of hard compound tyres and just two sets of softs per car.
At the first SMP round the disparity between new and used soft tyres was noticeable enough; however, the speed difference between soft and hard compound tyres was significant, let alone when drivers ran new or used tyres or only took two tyres versus four.
Already there were enough variables at the first Sydney event, and Supercars effectively doubled down in the second round. It was, at times, hard to keep up.
Some teams started on new tyres, others started on worn tyres, and while the telecast denoted what compound drivers were running, there was no way to tell the tyre condition.
Drivers, team owners, and engineers said the new tyre rules were challenging, Penrite Racing boss Barry Ryan was terse in his assessment of the racing.
“Supercars have done a great job with this whole COVID situation but the tyre allocation this weekend is just… I don’t think anybody’s a fan; it’s not real racing,” said Ryan.
“We’re racers; if we’re the best, we want to be able to be able to win.”
Scott McLaughlin accumulated the most points across the weekend, winning the first race of the weekend under lights before claiming third and 14th place finishes.
But he was left bemused after the final race of the weekend where he could only muster a 14th place finish on hard compound tyres.
“Going racing as a race driver you want to go out and win or compete at the highest level as much as you can, and our highest level today was 14th,” said McLaughlin.
“It’s fantastic for the category, (for) sponsors, and other people winning,” he added.
“It’s awesome, don’t get me wrong, (but) it’s kind of weird just rolling around in 14th and still winning the round.”
What can’t be denied is that the new format has shaken up the field.
For the likes of championship leader McLaughlin, it puts more emphasis on consistency and conserving tyres in an effort to record the highest possible result.
Then there are the likes of Brad Jones Racing which was able to snag a win or two when it went aggressive on strategy.
Ultimately, the format rewards those willing to make a sacrifice along the way. Evidence of that was Jack Le Brocq who had back-to-back 16th place finishes in the opening two races before throwing two sets of soft tyres at his Ford Mustang to beat Andre Heimgartner in the finale.
The same could be said of Todd Hazelwood who finished 13th in Race 9, started from the back in Race 10 after a vibration in qualifying and went on to finish 20th.
Like Le Brocq, Hazelwood also threw tyres at his Holden Commodore for the final race to charge through from 12th to claim a podium.
Throughout the three races, there were plenty of intense battles.
Race 11 was highlighted by a four-way fight for the final place on the podium, McLaughlin making two passes on the final lap to usurp Rick Kelly and then James Courtney.
Race 12 saw a grandstand finish, Le Brocq holding off Heimgartner and a hard-charging Hazelwood who passed David Reynolds on the final lap.
The Race 12 result marked the first time since the Gold Coast 600 in 2017 that neither DJR Team Penske nor Triple Eight Race Engineering had been on the podium.
It’s a win for fans of the ‘independents’ who, until these last two rounds, haven’t seen their drivers at the fore.
However, there are some in the pit lane that believe the new rules are contrived and a gimmick, as Ryan said, “fake racing”.
In this week’s Pirtek Poll we want to know if you think it’s made for better racing.