Champ needs to tame the wild west
DRIVING at Barbagallo Raceway in Western Australia is like playing in a big sand pit!
The track for this week's fourth round of the championship is located at Wanneroo, 25km north of Perth, and is surrounded by sand.
On a windy day sand gets blown onto the track which makes the surface abrasive and that affects tyre durability and performance.
Sand and debris also get dumped on the surface when cars fire off the track and then return to the circuit.
This round will feature three 120km races, the first on Saturday, and the remaining two over the same distance on Sunday.
All 28 Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons will be fitted with Dunlop's durable 'control' tyre for the first race, but we will switch to soft-compound 'sprint' rubber for both races the following day.
If there is plenty of sand on the track then it's doubtful the extra grip from the 'sprint' tyres will last as long as at some of the other circuits.
Tyre management will be crucial to the outcome, and teams face an interesting challenge working out the best strategy to cope with the conditions.
This is the only event in this year's 14-round championship where we have three races.
The remainder of the 2011 championship comprises 11 rounds with two races, plus the endurance events at Phillip Island and Bathurst.
Although there are three races this week, the maximum championship points on offer for the round will remain at 300.
The winner of each race in Western Australia will score 100 points, compared to 150 for both winners in rounds with a two-race format, and 300 for finishing first at Bathurst.
Qualifying will be important at Barbagallo Raceway because the races are shorter than usual.
You don't want to start midfield, or further back, because there isn't as much time to drive through the field compared to races of 200km or longer.
The 2.4km layout is undulating with a climb up to the top section of the circuit, followed by a long and fast downhill straight.
Most corners are right-handers and the average lap speed is approximately 150km/h. Engine performance is always a factor at this track.
Results in the previous round at Hamilton in New Zealand (April 15-17) have closed up the championship points.
Jamie Whincup (Team Vodafone Commodore) had problems in both races at Hamilton and his lead was reduced from 144 points to 81.
Rick Kelly (Jack Daniel's Commodore) and Shane Van Gisbergen (SP Tools Falcon) were the race winners in Hamilton, and that ended the domination of Team Vodafone and the Toll Holden Racing Team who won the previous four races in the previous two rounds.
Unfortunately I had a terrible round in New Zealand, copping a penalty in the first race and failing to finish the second after damaging the steering of my HRT Commodore when I clipped a tyre bundle.
I need a big points haul in Western Australia to get my title defence back on track.
Championship points(after race 6):
1. Jamie Whincup (Holden) 654
2. Rick Kelly (Holden) 573
3. Craig Lowndes (Holden) 552
4. Garth Tander (Holden) 543
5. Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 543
6. Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) 534
7. Will Davison (Ford) 528
8. Alex Davison (Ford) 522
9. Steve Johnson (Ford) 455
10. Fabian Coulthard (Holden) 441
11. Jason Bright (Holden) 414
12. David Reynolds (Holden) 354
13. James Courtney (Holden) 352