DJR backed itself on four-tyre strategy

Anton De Pasquale. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

The Shell V-Power Racing Team was confident that Anton De Pasquale’s seemingly risky four-tyre pit stop in Race 26 of the Repco Supercars Championship would pay dividends.

De Pasquale won the opening race of the BP Ultimate Sydney SuperSprint from pole position having officially led 29 of the 32 laps, and scored five bonus points for setting the fastest lap along the way, but those facts alone belie the nature of the contest.

Shane van Gisbergen finished second in similar fashion, but did manage to emerge ahead of the eventually victorious #11 Ford Mustang despite pitting a lap later and having trailed by around three seconds just before the stops.

That was because Red Bull Ampol Racing opted to change only working side tyres on the #97 ZB Commodore, whereas Dick Johnson Racing had opted for fresh rubber on all four corners of Car #11.

However, van Gisbergen’s advantage did not last, with the championship leader being picked off by De Pasquale before he was able to complete his out lap.

DJR team principal Ben Croke told Speedcafe.com that it was the sensible play.

“We felt we had enough gap over Shane, or knew that the four tyres would be better than Jamie [Whincup, third initially] and Shane if they went two,” he explained.

“It’s always hard when you’re the car out in front, trying to pick what to do.

“Look, if we come in and do two tyres, they probably come in and put four on and would pass us later on, so I think it was bit of a game of cat-and-mouse as to who did two and who did four there, and we did the four.

“Anton worked hard earlier in the race to get that gap to allow us the luxury of being able to play it out whichever way we wanted to.”

For Triple Eight Race Engineering, throwing only two fresh tyres at Car #97 was also the smart option, given the pure pace advantage which De Pasquale enjoyed anyway.

“They were the quickest car in that race, to be fair,” Triple Eight team manager Mark Dutton told Speedcafe.com.

“We took the opportunity to get out in front because you never know what’s going to happen, [and] you’ve got to roll the dice because it was a pretty low-risk bet.

“Chances are, Anton’s still going to get him, but chances of Shane finishing worse than P2 from that two-tyre strategy there was very low, so it was a fairly risk-free roll of the dice.

“It’s fun to do that,” he added.

“It’s racing; we could have just let them drive away and have a comfortable race, but we threw in a little bit of dicing.

“Anton and DJR are obviously a quality outfit and they got the pass done and they did everything right – smoothly, as they should have; congratulations to them – but no, Anton had the quickest car that race.”

DJR’s decision hardly came for free, however, given each car has only five sets of tyres to get through from the start of the opening qualifying session until the end of the final race of the weekend.

As such, De Pasquale has 12 new or near-new hoops left, and thus no scope for another three- or four-tyre stop in the two races to come without reusing race-worn tyres, whereas van Gisbergen has 14 to play with.

“You’re out in front, there’s a win on the table, you take it,” explained Croke.

“It might rain tomorrow; anything could happen tomorrow.

“It’s there in front of us; you take one.”

Nevertheless, Dutton believes that have two extra tyres up their sleeve relative to Car #11 can make a significant difference.

Shane van Gisbergen. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

“It definitely can,” he said.

“You’re spending the cash hard when you use four in a race. It’s not so bad when you use three, but definitely when you use four, that’s an expensive race.

“Anton was in a commanding position; the [Safety Car] restart meant he had to push them a little bit harder than he would have liked, but for sure you would imagine they’ll reuse them.

“But, it’ll still come at a price. There’ll be one of the races, provided there’s no rain, where they’re at a slight tyre disadvantage to some of the other competitors.”

For De Pasquale, the win was his fourth in the last seven races during this Sydney Motorsport Park swing, and came from a fifth pole in seven qualifying sessions, by a margin of more than three tenths of a second.

“He’s just clicked with the car and the team and the set-up and the circuit,” said Croke.

“He’s just going about his business and doing a really good job of it.”

At Triple Eight, there is some thought to be had about the reversal of the fortunes of van Gisbergen and team-mate Jamie Whincup from qualifying to Race 26.

Whincup earned a front row berth but struggled relative to De Pasquale and van Gisbergen on his way to a finish of fourth, an experience he described as “painful”.

There was an element of strategy in that, given Will Brown rounded out the podium after taking four tyres versus the seven-time champion’s two and then got the benefit of a Safety Car which compressed the field, although the Erebus Motorsport driver also had to overcome the setback of an issue in his pit stop which cost him a little bit more time again.

“What we need to understand most is that Jamie was happier with his car than Shane was in qualifying, and then that definitely reversed for the race,” explained Dutton.

“So, the cars are quite similar but not identical, so we need to understand the differences, and really understand why the reversal.

“Clearly, we want both drivers to be happy with their car, so the fact that there was a full switch…

“So, we need to understand qualifying, but then we need to understand the differences that we made and why it really reversed that, and had more of a pronounced effect than we thought it should have.”

Qualifying for Race 27 and Qualifying for Race 28 take place tomorrow from 11:45 local time/AEDT.

Join the discussion below in the Speedcafe.com comments section

Please note: Speedcafe.com reserves the right to remove any comment that does not follow the comment policy. For support, contact [email protected]