In case you missed it, here’s the first of a series of stories I did for V8 Supercars outlining who I think the contenders for this years V8 Supercar Championship will be:-
Russell Ingall analyses the teams he believes will be pushing for the title this year – starting with the three-pronged attack from Triple Eight.
Two-time Bathurst winner and 2005 V8 Supercars Champion Russell Ingall is gearing up for a big year in V8 Supercars, after a flurry of driver movements, car changes and a new driver with the #1 on the windscreen.
Having raced with two top teams in the Pirtek Enduro Cup last year, Ingall has an insight behind the scenes, as well as watching on as an export commentator during the races.
Speaking to v8supercars.com.au ‘The Enforcer’ outlines the teams he believes will be contenders for this year’s title, starting with the newly expanded Triple Eight Race Engineering.
Ingall identified Triple Eight as the key contending team this season, with six-time champ Jamie Whincup, six-time Bathurst winner Craig Lowndes and one of the most exciting racers in Shane van Gisbergen within the fold.
Taking the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 last year and the teams championship, Roland Dane’s operation strengthened in the second half of the year and took the fight to Sydney.
The battle for the year’s last win was between Whincup and van Gisbergen in a show of what to expect this time around.
For Ingall, the choice to expand to three – and then manage those personalities – is what is fascinating about 2016.
“Their biggest story is Roland going against everything he’s always said he’d never do and run more than two cars,” The Enforcer told v8supercars.com.au.
“He’s gone against his concept of team dynamics … and I think the reason why he’s changed that is the van Gisbergen factor. He wanted to find a home for him and putting on a third car was the only way to do it.”
Three solid shots at the championship is something Dane would have considered, according to Ingall, and this covers him in the future if Lowndes or Whincup choose to move on from the series, possibly for overseas opportunities, as both have hinted in the past.
“All of a sudden, he’s got a replacement there straight away if one of those guys decides they want to do something else – so he’s covering himself,” Ingall said.
“With the strongest driver in the field at the moment and one of the hottest properties, he’s covered himself down the road – so I think h’s looking bit further down the hill than just next year.
“I’m sure there’s other reasons … you have a third car there to win a championship, which is always good, but I think there’s more to the picture than just that.
“Roland’s pretty astute, he always looks long term – he doesn’t look at the end of the street, he looks in the next state.”
While there’s no question all three will be key contenders this year, the interesting part is how the team will manage it.
“You venture into 2016 and you’ve got three of them in the top five of the championship, all the way through to the end – tell me there’s not going to be something going down?” Ingall said.
“There’s going to be some issues somewhere along the line – it’ll be just a matter of when, not if, it comes down to the pointy end of the championship and those three are in contention.
“Man, I’ll tell you what – you’ll have to be more diplomatic than a politician to sort that out! To think everything’s going to go smooth and rosy and everyone’s going to get along and play nicely – good luck, there’s no hope in hell.”
The drivers – Jamie Whincup
Ingall described Whincup as a “complex character” and who reminds him of a former championship-winning teammate.
“He’s complex in the way that, when he’s away from the race track you never hear much from him. He reminds me very much of a more polished Marcos Ambrose,” Ingall said.
“Marcos is a bit of a farm boy, he never used to worry about wearing Gucci or Prada shoes … Whincup reminds me of him in the way he goes racing, how they analyse things at the track, but then when he leaves the track he’s gone.
“He seems to be able to switch on and off for race weekends. Marcos was like that too – he’d have gone up to the hinterland in Queensland, we never saw him until the next race meeting.”
The challenge is what he thrives on, Ingall says.
“The goal is to win championships and win races – he’s done a lot of that, like Marcos did, they’ve won a lot of championships, and a hell of a lot of races. When you’ve completed your goals, you go, well, where to from now? ‘All I’m doing is repeating the same things’.
“I think the challenge last year of getting the car competitive again sparked him up, the challenge of ‘rightio, I haven’t got a car advantage, I have to lift if I’m going to win races again’.
“You get a bonus because the team did get the car going again, he lifted as well and towards the end of 2015 he was seriously fast again. I think that perked him up because there was a challenge there.”
Now the challenge will be competing against ‘SVG’.
“Not to say by any means that Lowndes is a slouch – but I think having Shane knocking on the door there and we saw in the latter part of the year, especially at Homebush, how easily matched those two were.
“That could spark him up as well, and it’ll be the fight that’ll intrigue him more than anything.
“I think a lot of punters would say Shane’s going to dominate now, he’s going to have a better car. He beat Whincup at some races with what might be seen as not the latest and greatest Triple Eight equipment [with Tekno]. So that might spark Jamie on again and reinvigorate him to carry on…
“I think this will energise him – he’s got a serious challenger within his own team, and he’ll want to prove he’s still number one. I think it’s going to be a really intriguing battle between those two.”
Shane van Gisbergen
Ingall considers himself a fan of the quick Kiwi, who boasts a best championship finish of second in 2014.
“I like Shane … he showed me a lot of respect when I was racing – a lot of other drivers didn’t, but he did and from a newbie I really appreciated that.
“I think he is naturally gifted – he is very much like Lowndes, he just gets in a car and goes fast. Probably half the time they don’t know why they do, they just do.”
The Enforcer also loves van Gisbergen’s hunger to drive anything and everything – something he thinks not enough drivers take advantage of.
“Drivers that get true street cred are the ones who are multi-talented as far as jumping in anything, going good and competing against other drivers around the world – I think that’s really where you make your mark in motorsport and I like Shane because of that.
“He’s not afraid to have a stab at anything or anyone, and have a good run at it.”
No question, Ingall says, SVG will win the title in the coming years.
“He’ll win the championship, there’s no doubt about it, and this is his best opportunity to do it.
“He’s calmed down a little bit – well, while I say calmed down, he was still pretty loose last year! But that’s all part of it, it’s good.
“He’s got a psychological advantage because when he turns a wheel in 2016 some of the people still remember some of the antics and think, ‘this guy plays for keeps’. He makes them a bit nervous before you even get on the track – so I think he’s got an advantage all round.”
While Ingall believes in Whincup and van Gisbergen, there’s no way he’s writing off Lowndes.
A competitor he’s raced against for years, Ingall understands the one element of Lowndes racing that could be improved.
“The only chink in Craig’s armour – and not that I can talk because I had the same kind of issues – is qualifying.
“His qualifying was very hit and miss. He’s one of the best racers in the field and up to a point I think in the field races better than Whincup – when he’s buried in the field he’ll move to the front better than what Whincup would.
“But because of his qualifying performances, that’s what’s what cost him the championship and that’s the part of his racing style that he’s going to have to shine up – doesn’t have to worry about the speed, doesn’t have to worry about passing, just has to worry about qualifying better.”
Some may see the separation as TeamVortex to be a disadvantage but Ingall believes it will play into Lowndes’ hands.
“I think he’s always flourished a little as the solo runner. He’ll be debriefing with them all, but the perception of being individual I think will do him good – I think he’ll like that, the focus is on him and the one sponsor.”
Ingall has no doubt the #888 racer will be competitive and a title threat.
“Some of his performances these last few rounds – especially in New Zealand after that tyre failure, coming back again and getting points was just phenomenal.
“He still took the fight to Frosty right up to Sydney – that was a bloody good effort, it was just the consistency that let him down.
“There’s no doubt about it, he’s still in with a shot for another championship.”
Do you agree with the Enforcer? Is Triple Eight the team to beat this year? Stay tuned for Ingall’s analysis of those he believes are the 2016 contenders.