Jamie Whincup and Triple 8: Superpowers of V8 Supercars.
With the help of factory Porsche driver and two-time GC600 participant Patrick Long to analyze the field, along with thoughts from many of the 2012 GC600 drivers, here's RACER's team-by-team preview:
Car 1: Triple 8 Engineering / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Jamie Whincup / International driver: Sebastien Bourdais
We say: The Ganassi Racing of the V8 series. Triple 8 hasn't been around as long as some of the founding teams, but they've dominated the series in recent years and currently lead the championship with Whincup and Craig Lowndes running 1-2. Whincup has three titles to his credit since 2008 and is on pace to get a fourth this year. He and Bourdais were the class of the 2011 GC600 event – the Frenchman also won the first Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy awarded to the international driver with the best finishing position across both 300km races – and there's every reason to believe the No. 1 Vodafone car will own the GC600 again in 2012.
Bourdais says: Jamie is very strong, and so is Craig in the other Triple 8 car. If Jamie can put it on pole again and I can make a good start, it will be pretty good from there. But a lot of what's going to happen over the weekend is obviously going to be dictated by whether Jamie can pull some magic again, which he tends to do more often than not. And then it's for me to not screw up! It's cool for me to be a part of the Triple 8 team again, and it's a great group of guys who give you just awesome equipment and make you feel welcome instantly. I'm very much looking forward to that and seeing Jamie again and trying to have fun.
Car 2 Walkinshaw Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Garth Tander / International driver: Ryan Briscoe
We say: The factory Holden team has been a shell of its former self in recent years but Tander, in particular, always finds the necessary speed at Surfers. Briscoe is a veteran member of the team and the two form an effective combination. At least one podium is within their grasp.
Briscoe says: I think Garth certainly has a knack around that track and knows how to pull it out in qualifying. Starting at the front is such a make or break deal with doing well at Surfers Paradise. It's hard to pass there. If you start at the front and you're having a trouble-free race, then you're more likely to finish at the front. There are a lot of drivers and co-drivers this year that have more experience, feel more comfortable in these cars on that track. So I think the competition is going to be pretty strong. I'd love to get a win there and we'll certainly have a bit of an internal rivalry going on between the IndyCar drivers…it's like half the field.
Car 3 Tony D'Alberto Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Tony D'Alberto / International driver: Vitantonio Liuzzi
We say: Being a single-car team in series loaded with three- and four-car programs is less than desirable, and it shows with D'Alberto's family-run program. Nice people, cool international driver in Liuzzi, but no hope of making their presence felt.
Long says: This is one where I don't have a ton to say. It's hard to be super enthusiastic for their chances, but Tonio will get all of the speed out of this car. He proved that last year. D'Alberto is still learning.
Car 4 Stone Brothers Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Lee Holdsworth / International driver: Simon Pagenaud
We say: NASCAR's Marcos Ambrose won his pair of V8S titles with the SBR team, which has remained quite strong in his absence, but has lacked the final bit of pace – and luck – to find a steady stream of wins. The No. 4 entry with Holdsworth and Pagenaud (who drove together and earned a GC600 podium with a different team last year) is the biggest dark horse in the field. If their Ford is handling properly, they could easily earn another podium visit or a win if the planets align. Pagenaud, who was a mystery to the V8 drivers and fans in 2011, heads to Oz as one of the most feared internationals in the paddock.
Simon says: Lee's very strong at Surfers. He knows the track really well. It really depends on how the car's going to do there. The [Garry Rogers Motorsports Holden] was really good at Surfers over the curbs; it had good traction and we kept the tires underneath it pretty well. Switching to the SBR Ford this year, it's harder for me to have an idea on where we're going to be at, but I think we'll be in the mix, to be honest, and we can repeat what we've done last year. I think we could be even better.
Car 5 Ford Performance Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Mark Winterbottom / International driver: Will Power
We say: Among the top teams that are expected to do well, this is the car and driver combo that has people worried. Power drove for FPR in the first GC600 but missed the 2011 event when he injured his back in the Las Vegas IndyCar crash that took the life of Dan Wheldon, but he's ready and motivated to deliver for his teammate “Frosty” this year. Winterbottom won GC600 Race 2 in 2011, and is a threat to repeat with Power in the car.
Power says: I really enjoyed the first year I went there. The team is great. We have Mark Winterbottom third in the championship, so I just want to do a really good job for him – make no mistakes and just hand the car over to him without any scratches on it. I'd say the team has high expectations. I think they will expect to be running at the front and that's great for me. When I drove the car last time, it really was very well balanced and easy to drive. So I think there's been some development since then so it should be at least as good if not a lot better this year.
Car 6 Ford Performance Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Will Davison / International driver: Mika Salo
We say: Davison will have the fast and mischievous Mika Salo alongside him, which should help the Bathurst 1000 polesitter to get his season back on track. Davison dominated the early stages of the championship with six wins from the first 11 races, but he's currently on a three-race slide and has fallen to fourth in the standings. Provided Mika can avoid the Finnish mist that rears its head at inopportune times, the No. 6 Ford should be another major FPR threat to Whincup/Bourdais.
Long says: I think if they keep their nose clean in the first half of the race, you have to think that Will should be battling toward the end for the win.
Car 7 Kelly Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Tim Blanchard / International driver: Marco Andretti
We say: What should have been an exciting opportunity to watch Marco Andretti drive with race-winning V8 veteran Todd Kelly took a turn in the wrong direction when Kelly had to step out of the car for the GC600 to have shoulder surgery. In his place, the capable but unproven Tim Blanchard will drive with the third-generation IndyCar star, but the potential for fireworks has been diluted rather heavily. Andretti was a revelation in an LMP2 car so, even though his chances at Surfers have taken a hit, he could be fun to watch wherever the No.7 Commodore sits in the field.
Long says: I don't have a ton of expectations from them. It's been kind of up and down for that car this year. I think it's definitely going to be a “cutting their losses” weekend, in my opinion.
Car 8 Brad Jones Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Jason Bright / International driver: Stephane Sarrazin
We say: Open-wheel fans might remember “Brighty” from his time in CART's Firestone Indy Lights Series, and later as a member of Aston Martin's ALMS program. He's always been fast, but has been a lightning rod for bad luck in the V8 series. If Bright and the ultra-talented Sarrazin have a good run going at the GC600, just look skyward because the cartoon anvil will probably be falling in their direction.
Long says: We all know Sarrazin is one of the quickest guys in motorsport, from rally to open-wheel to sports cars. Brighty didn't have the best season last year but obviously something clicked between these two guys and that's why they have the combination back together again.