There's no reason not to love the Armor All Gold Coast 600. Featuring Australia's most popular racing series, the production-based V8 Supercars, the “GC600” is unique compared with the star events in other professional championships.
Held on the streets of Surfers Paradise, the V8 organizers created the GC600 concept in the wake of IndyCar's departure from the event after the '08 non-championship race, making the bold move to place an international driver with each of its 28 V8 regulars to compete in a pair of 300-kilometer (186-mile) races that pay full points. It isn't an exhibition or an all-star race, and with just four events left in the championship, the choice of international driver is critical for those teams vying for the V8 title.
With 28 “international” drivers from Formula 1, IndyCar, American Le Mans Series, Grand-Am, NASCAR, the World Endurance Championship and World Touring Car Championship partnering with V8 legends, journeymen and also-rans, the mix of talent and drama generated from different worlds colliding made the GC600 an instant classic.
The V8 series, now in its third decade of existence, features one of racing's most primal rivalries with Ford and General Motors (in this case, the Holden brand) fueling a highly divided fan base. The V8s employ a multi-race format at most rounds, spreading 29 races across 15 weekends with three endurance events, including the Bathurst 1000 – Australia's equivalent of the Indy 500 – as the centerpiece of the championship. The GC600 marks the 12th round, 22nd/23rd races and final endurance event on the 2012 calendar.
Established in this format in 2010, the 1.8-mile, 15-turn street races offer the 100,000-plus fans non-stop entertainment. Four V8 sessions dominate Friday's activities, while Saturday's run for the pole with the series' trademark Top 10 Shootout session will set the grid for the first 102-lap race later in the afternoon.
At just over two hours in length, each 300km race within the narrow confines of the cement-lined circuit leaves the V8 cars and drivers looking like they've finished a destruction derby. Few body panels are usable after Race 1, and some cars require wholesale rebuilds prior to Race 2.
This year, with the ALMS season finale at Petit Le Mans being held on the same weekend, the number of sports car drivers in the field has been reduced, but in their place, nine IndyCar drivers fill the void. V8 teams tend to have their “internationals” start the race, and hand over around the 45-minute mark.
When the V8 Supercars aren't on track, the organizers fill every available minute with other series, including the Australian GTs, V8 Utes, Porsche Carrera Cup, vintage V8s, demonstration runs by dragsters, moto-x stunt teams and live concerts, headlined by this year by Good Charlotte.
Track Map: http://surfersparadise.v8supercars.com.au/Portals/v8/RadEditor/Documents/Attachments/V8SC_12_GC600_MAP_V2.pdf
TV: The event airs on SPEED on a one-week delay basis, at 11 p.m. ET on Sunday, Oct. 28.
DRIVING A V8 SUPERCAR
With 650hp on tap from 5.0-liter V8s, a relatively high curb weight of 3000 lbs and skinny Dunlop slicks, these beastly machines are anything but easy to drive.
Beneath the skin of a V8, plenty of technology can be found, but the raw attributes of high power and weight met with minimal grip result in one of the most exciting championships on the planet. Rules are very tight within the V8 series, which keeps the cars close on the stopwatch and dials up the intensity when it comes time to make a pass.
The amount of engineering, effort and componentry that goes into every V8 car pushes the price tag well north of $600,000 – in the range of a fully kitted Dallara DW12 IndyCar.
Drawing from his vast experience in tin tops while driving ALMS GT, Rolex GT and NASCAR machinery, road course ringer Boris Said offered his thoughts on driving a V8 Supercar, and where it falls among the other cars he's piloted:
“I like the V8 cars and understand them; to me they really feel like a SCCA World Challenge car because the grip is about the same and it's got a little more horsepower,” he said. “It's not like jumping in a Grand-Am car and you're wide open in the first lap with a lot of tire under you. Here you've got to kind of build up to it a little bit. The hardest thing for an American or an outsider to get used to is that they run a spool rear end; there's not a diff or a locker, so they're really hard to handle in the slow corners compared to a Rolex Series or ALMS cars.
“You do some weird things you don't normally do to get it to turn in the slow stuff, but overall, they're a blast to drive. You have to take care of the brakes and tires and really have to work to the speed out of them. You don't have tons of grip or a nimble chassis to work with, so the drivers end up putting in a lot of effort to get a lap time out of the cars.”
Next page: Team-by-team preview
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.
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.
Car 30 Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Taz Douglas / International driver: Mike Conway
We say: Owned by paralyzed ex-racer Lucas Dumbrell, the tiny outfit continues to improve each season, but lacks the resources to do more than prop up the bottom of the grid. Scott Pruett (2010) and Marino Franchitti (2011) had horrid experiences with LDM at the GC600, which made filling the seat next to a capable driver like Douglas a major challenge. After months of refusals, IndyCar's Mike Conway, who's curious about sports car racing, raised his hand to accept the ride. Based on his sarcastic response below, the Briton is well aware of what he's gotten himself into.
Conway says: I'll be pissed if I'm not on pole… [laughs]. This is first time in a touring car for me. At the moment I just want to see what's out there. One of the reasons for doing this race is to get a good experience of what it's like in a tin-top. I'm open to anything, really, for my future in racing. It should be fun racing with all the guys I used to race against in Europe and a really fun event. Obviously, I'm taking it seriously. Taz is a cool guy. I've known him since the go kart days. It will be great to get back racing with him and I can't wait to get in the car.
Car 33 Garry Rogers Motorsports / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Greg Ritter / International driver: Ricky Taylor
We say: GRM hits its stride at the GC600 each year, taking the fight to the factory teams with a lot of smiles and grit. Long helped the team to a top-four finish in 2010 and Pagenaud followed it with a podium last year, but its No. 33 Holden will have a harder time keeping the streak alive in 2012. A last-minute switch from full-season driver Alexandre Premat to Greg Ritter should be an improvement, but the void left by Holdsworth is still too much to overcome. With Taylor, GRM has a hungry young talent in the car, but his lack of GT experience will keep overall expectations for this entry within reason.
Taylor says: I've been a fan of the series for so long, and I've watched so many on-boards and so many of the races. But no matter how much you watch, you can never guess what it's like inside of the car. It has a lot of power, it's heavy and it moves around a lot, so that's very different from what I'm used to in Daytona Prototypes. In the same sense, I can see why the racing is so exciting because it's hard to drive and if you make a mistake it's easy to go wide and someone will slip underneath you. I can't wait to get out there with 27 other cars.
Car 34 Garry Rogers Motorsports / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Michael Caruso / International driver: James Hinchcliffe
We say: A fascinating combination. Caruso isn't a big name outside of the V8 series, but within, he's known as one hell of a fighter. He's an animal at the GC600 and has a rather skilled IndyCar driver to help put on a show for the thousands of loyal GRM fans in attendance. Hinchcliffe starred as part of Mazda's Rolex 24 factory team in January and, despite the big increase in power and torque, the Canadian should shine. He's a perfect fit for this blue collar team.
Hinchcliffe says: These cars are pretty bad-ass. And the team is a group of no-BS racers. That's what I love about them; it's not some big corporate entity but nor is it a bunch of yokels who don't know what they're doing. It's a small group of guys who love racing and have been doing it for a long time and do it pretty damn well. The team's record at Surfers speaks for itself.
There's definitely going to be a lot to learn about tire management and modulating that right foot a little bit more because, certainly, with skinny tires and a bunch of power, you can go backwards in a hurry. But ultimately, it's a challenge, right? And I think any racing driver loves a new challenge, especially a challenge in driving a new racecar. Double special is this racecar happens to be a wild thing to drive.
Car 47 Stone Brothers Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Tim Slade / International driver: David Brabham
We say: Slade, an Aussie David Coulthard lookalike, is one of the series' rapid young guns in search of his first win. Sitting sixth in the championship, he'll have the steady hand of countryman Brabham in the No. 47 Falcon, which should help to deliver a pair of top-8s if Slade can keep his enthusiasm in check.
Brabham says: I always look forward to going down to Australia to race. The Gold Coast event is a really good one and with some of the international drivers going down there, it makes it interesting. I'd like to think we can get into the top six. I finished fifth there last year in one of the races, crashed in the other. Obviously, I hope to do better than last year; that's the target.
Car 49 Brad Jones Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Steve Owen / International driver: Boris Said
We say: The partnership of Owen and road course ace Said was particularly effective at the 2011 GC600, taking a hard-fought seventh in Race 2. The BJR team has had a poor season overall, but Owen's a strong qualifier and Said has more tin-top experience than every other international driver on the grid. A repeat of their 2011 form would feel like a win for this entry.
Said says: I go back a long way with Brad Jones, and Steve Owen is a hell of a driver. It's a great team; they fight really hard and do a good job with their cars. I think things will be even faster in our second year together.
Car 51 Kelly Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Greg Murphy / International driver: Justin Wilson
We say: The legendary Kiwi is rebounding after missing the middle portion of the 2012 championship due to injury. As the author of Bathurst's “Lap of the Gods,” Murph's speed has never been questioned, and with first-time V8 driver Justin Wilson joining him, he'll need to impart everything he knows to get the talented Brit on the limit. Provided Wilson adapts to the Holden's unique driving requirements, I'd rate their chances for a top-six in at least one race as more than possible.
Wilson says: It's just fantastic to drive with Murph. I spent some time with him last week and he's just a great guy, a lot of fun. Hopefully, I can help him get a decent result. That's my own expectation. I'm not expecting to go out and win it…but I don't expect to go and be last, either. I want to be competitive and in the race.
Car 55 Ford Performance Racing / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: David Reynolds / International driver: Nick Heidfeld
We say: Reynolds made a name for himself two weeks ago at the 50th running of the Bathurst 1000, waging a torrid battle with Whincup over the final 20 laps before finishing second. On the heels of that coming out party, look for Reynolds to be on the boil at the GC600, but his teammate, ex-F1 man Heidfeld, could be a limiting factor in the final results. How fast the German adapts to something as different as a V8 Supercar will dictate where the No. 55 finishes. If Heidfeld can hand over the car in the top half of the running order, look for Reynolds to go on one of his familiar passing sprees.
Long says: Reynolds is a guy who just has an immense amount of natural talent. He keeps himself light on his feet and keeps things fresh and fun. Heidfeld…well, I expect that it's not going to be easy for him.
Car 66 Walkinshaw Racing / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Russell Ingall / International driver: Peter Dumbreck
We say: A veteran of Super GT, DTM, GT1 and GT2 competition, Scotland's Dumbreck should be one of the most impressive GC600 newcomers (see his response below). Ingall, the 2005 V8 champion, has been rather effective this year in a new team after spending a few seasons in the wilderness. Nicknamed “The Enforcer,” Ingall's penchant for making contact when it isn't necessary is the only thing that could keep the No. 66 from a pair of strong finishes.
Dumbreck says: I hate it when expectations are too high! I suppose what you can compare the car to would probably be the GT1 car, the Nissan GTR that I drove in 2010. Big old beast... And I'm hoping that my experience in that will stand me in good stead. You've got to treat these cars with respect because I've heard from enough drivers now that they're not easy to drive, so it's going to be a big challenge, especially around a street circuit where you've got zero margin for error. So I think it's just a case of build up gradually and by the time the race comes up, be on the pace. There are some very big names there…and then there's me. Yeah, it's an honor to be invited and to sit next to a past champion like Russell.
Car 91 Tekno Autosports / Ford Falcon
V8 driver: Michael Patrizi / International driver: Lucas di Grassi
We say: Possibly the least-experienced sports car combo in the event. Patrizi can be fast, and di Grassi, at least in open-wheel and prototypes like the Audi R18, is a rocket, but this duo simply lacks the miles to put up much of a fight.
Long says: They win the Latin last name award, next to Fiore and Morbidelli. We know di Grassi from F1, and Patrizi seems to be a guy that has a lot of speed and experience with his Australian Carrera Cup experience. Hard to say much more about their chances, though.
Car 888 Triple 8 Engineering / Holden Commodore
V8 driver: Craig Lowndes / International driver: Richard Lyons
We say: Lowndes is a close second to teammate Whincup in the championship, and is also Jamie's greatest threat to win either or both GC600 races. As the closest thing the V8 series has to Dario Franchitti, Lowndes has been doing this forever, hasn't slowed down and continues to vie for titles while rapidly approaching the age of 40. He'll have Richard Lyons in the No. 888 for the first time, but after Lyons and Winterbottom combined to win the second GC600 race last year, the Triple 8 team made sure to secure his services in 2012.
Long says: I expect this pairing to be super, super tough. It's pretty amazing what Lyons did last year and Triple 8 snapped him up a lot like they did with Bourdais. Those guys see what they want and they go after it. And I think they've ended up with two pretty awesome pairings. This one's a winner.