Melbourne 400 Preview: Can Whincup Go Back To Back In Melbourne?

Melbourne 400 Preview: Can Whincup Go Back To Back In Melbourne?

The Virgin Australia Supercars will return to the track in Melbourne this week for round two of the 2019 Championship.

The Melbourne 400 will take place on the 5.303km racetrack at Albert Park. Unlike other events throughout the year the main focus will not be on the Supercars but on the Formula One, as the event runs alongside the Australian Grand Prix.

Speaking to The Breakfast Club on RSN radio on Wednesday morning, David Reynolds described the situation as driving in a “support category,” despite labelling it as one of the biggest races of the year.

Supercars drivers will battle it out in four short races, consisting of either 13 or 25 laps, so qualifying is crucial to set up track position. The winners of each of the races in 2018 – Scott McLaughlin, Jamie Whincup, Scott Pye and Reynolds – all started their winning race in third position or higher.

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The win for Pye was his first in Supercars, and something he hasn’t been able to emulate since.

“The goal is now to repeat that, not so much going to get my first win but it shows how hard it is to regularly win in this championship, showing my last win in the championship was here 12 months ago,” Pye told Supercars.com.

Nine previous winners will contest the Melbourne 400 this weekend. Retired driver Russell Ingall holds the record of the most wins at Albert Park with eight, but Shane van Gisbergen and Mark Winterbottom could equal or overtake that record this weekend, as both are currently sitting on seven wins. There have only been three drivers, on four occasions, to win all four races in one weekend – the last to do so was Winterbottom in 2015.

There will be a number of milestones being celebrated this weekend: the 1000th Supercars Championship race will take place, while Erebus Motorsport and Team 18 will both start their 200th race in Race 4 on Saturday.

While the new Ford Mustang dominated the timesheets in Adelaide, McLaughlin’s car was the only one to get through the weekend unscathed. The short distance races mean if the Mustang’s are fast during qualifying as we saw two weeks ago, there is potential for all six cars to be big contenders. Two other major contenders are van Gisbergen – who finished on the podium in both of the opening races of the season – and Winterbottom – who climbed from 24th to finish 6th in Race 2.

The Red Bull Holden Racing Team took three podium positions in Adelaide and currently sit second and third in the Championship, but Whincup admitted the #88 and #97 cars struggled to keep up with the speed of McLaughlin’s Mustang. Team manager Mark Dutton told redbullholdenracing.com the team has made substantial progress on the cars since the last race.

“We focused very hard on some areas of the car we thought were deficient,” he said.

“We didn’t have a lot of issues with the cars in Adelaide, we just didn’t have the level of consistency that we had said ourselves for the event.”

Macauley Jones will race a completely different car for the foreseeable future after his huge crash in practice at Adelaide significantly damaged the chassis of his car. Jones will now drive Tim Slade’s old car, nicknamed ‘Jinx.’ Slade drove the car to his maiden Supercars race win at Winton in 2016, while Jones drove it in his wildcard races at Hidden Valley and The Bend last year.

By Laura Devoy.

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