Car 9 Stone Brothers Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Shane Van Gisbergen / International driver: Jeroen Bleekemolen
We say: The combo of Bleekemolen and Van Gisbergen could just as easily be confused for Belgium's latest electronica DJs, but the Kiwi/Dutch driving duo is actually my favorite sleeper GC600 entry for this year. Barely out of his teens, the linebacker-sized Van Gisbergen has talent in spades and loves the Surfers circuit. The kid is pure dynamite. Bleekemolen, who has a lower profile than most international drivers in the field, will leave Surfers having made a very favorable impact.
Long says: If you had one team to watch that could spoil things for the more dominant guys, it's these two.
Car 11 Kelly Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Karl Reindler / International driver: Franck Montagny
We say: Reindler showed great promise in Australia's junior open-wheel formulas, and has the looks and personality to keep the sponsorship flowing, but lacks that little thing called pace. His teammate brings the exact opposite skill set to the team, and should wring the Holden's neck when he's in the car.
Long says: I think you've got sort of the dolphin and the shark swimming together. Montagny is all business, no-frills, a classic Frenchman who's just hammer down. And then Reindler is like the consummate professional and easy-going guy. It wouldn't surprise me if Montagny attempted or succeeded in convincing the team that he needs to do the finish. And he might have some serious surprises there.
Car 12 Dick Johnson Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Dean Fiore / International driver: Gianni Morbidelli
We say: The legendary DJR team has been lost in the wilderness since it won the 2010 V8 title and, unfortunately, new hire Fiore has been a disappointment. Morbidelli always tries hard, but it won't really matter.
Long says: Dean's a great guy, but…
Car 14 Brad Jones Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Fabian Coulthard / International driver: Nicolas Minassian
We say: Coulthard, whose 190mph barrel roll at Bathurst 2010 earned him global recognition, has found a good home at BJR, responding with his most impressive V8 season to date. With “Quick Nic” sharing the No.14 Commodore, this entry has the makings of a Top-10 contender Saturday and Sunday.
Minassian says: I'm really looking forward to it. It's a big race in one of the best championships in the world. There's no doubt, it's one of the top three championships – Formula 1, NASCAR and V8s. It's good to measure yourself at this kind of level. I know it's going to be tough so I'm not making big expectations. It's about learning more than anything.
Car 15 Kelly Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Rick Kelly / International driver: Graham Rahal
We say: Lots of talent, lots of height. The tallest driver tandem in the event could be one to watch, despite Kelly Racing's lackluster season. Kelly, the 2006 V8 series champion, is always good at Surfers, which should help Rahal who has a steep learning curve to figure out the No. 15 Holden. He's also raced at Surfers before in Indy cars, which is a bonus. It's hard to feel bullish about their chances, but both drivers have a history of producing when faced with a challenge. I won't be surprised if they prove to be highly competitive.
Rahal says: I've obviously never driven a V8 Supercar, but I'm looking forward to it. I've driven V8-powered GT cars like the ALMS Corvette and the Saleen S7R so I kind of have a little bit of an expectation as to what I think it's going to feel like. But then again, I think that car is so raw, so beastly that it's hard for me to tell you what I think it's going to be like. I would say Rick and I are a good set because we're about the same size. There's a lot of exciting stuff in the works for the team and I hope that we can have a really positive and strong finish for them. That, of course, would be the ultimate goal.
Car 17 Dick Johnson Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Steven Johnson / International driver: Max Papis
We say: Like the other two DJR cars in the GC600, expectations should be kept low for Johnson and Papis, although the Italian will surely deliver 100 percent…if not more. No one has lobbied harder to be included in this event than Papis, who was a monster around the course back in the CART days.
Papis says: Dick Johnson and Steve Johnson…they are legends down in Australia, and to be able to drive the No. 17 Jim Beam car is going to be a really, really special treat for myself. I've been preparing myself a lot. I take it really, really serious. I got a video of the races there from last year and I've been memorizing them. I spoke in the last couple of days quite a bit with Marcos Ambrose about how to drive the car – braking points, lines, tricks and things to be better prepared when you go out there and drive – so I feel I'm ready. I'm not going to be there on vacation. I'm going to be going down there to definitely leave a mark.
Car 18 Dick Johnson Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: James Moffat / International driver: Peter Kox
We say: Second-generation V8 driver Moffat made headlines at last year's race with Joey Hand as his teammate. The duo starred in Race 1 on fresh tires during the closing laps and DJR was energized all weekend by Hand's enthusiasm and swift chassis setup work. With Kox, who barely registers a pulse, I don't foresee the same kind of result or uplifting presence, which the team desperately needs.
Long says: Moffat has a versatile co-driver in Kox, which I really like, but I think the question mark is if the team can pull a rabbit out of the hat after a pretty rough season.
Car 19 Tekno Autosports / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Jonathon Webb / International driver: Marc Lieb
We say: Owner/ driver Webb is capable of strong performances and tends to find himself just inside the top 10 when things go right. In 2011, he had a briefly un-retired Gil de Ferran as a teammate, but gets Porsche factory ace (and GC600 returnee) Lieb to help pedal the big Ford. Add this entry to the shortlist of dark horses.
Long says: I think Marc will be the sort of year-two man because he's got the experience now. He's in the right working environment and he just is one of the most underrated drivers, bar none.
Car 21 Britek-Brad Jones Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: David Wall / International driver: Jamie Campbell-Walter
We say: Wall's inexperience has rendered the No. 21 Commodore mostly invisible this year. JCW, a GC600 rookie, should still be able to boost the team's slim chances with so much GT experience to draw from.
Long says: Jamie's no slouch and is a seriously experienced guy who has nothing to prove.
Car 22 Walkinshaw Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: James Courtney / International driver: Darren Turner
We say: After claiming the 2010 V8 championship with DJR, Courtney's switch to the factory Holden program has been a disappointment, but with Turner back for his second GC600 tour with Holden, Courtney has every reason to feel optimistic. The late Dan Wheldon was scheduled to drive with Courtney last year, but following Dan's death, Turner flew to Oz with no notice to stand in for his countryman. He ended up making quite an impression, too, taking sixth with Courtney in Race 2. With the No. 22 coming off a fourth-place finish at Bathurst, this is one combination that could have designs on at least one podium visit.
Long says: Turner is just an awesome, awesome driver and a guy who doesn't draw any of the needed energy from the team's progress based on driver requests. I like that he's really low-key. And Courtney is always capable of winning. This one could be another surprise.