Townsville a driving force in Supercars
THE Townsville 400 holds a special place in the hearts of Supercar drivers and fans alike, says Russell Ingall.
The former champion turned Fox Sports commentator, who was nicknamed "The Enforcer" for his uncompromising attitude behind the wheel, is looking forward to calling the action when the 10th annual event kicks into gear today.
"It's a great success story, especially for Townsville," he tells The Guide.
"The town's been on a bit of a roller coaster ride lately. It's great for the town. It not only puts it on the map Australia-wide, it's one of the signature events (of the year) as well.
"Sitting on the other side of the screen, I see more of it as an event and what makes the race so popular."
Before his retirement from full-time professional driving in 2014, Ingall clocked up plenty of laps on the street circuit.
"Street circuits are very challenging and that's why I used to enjoy them a lot more," he says.
"A good driver can overcome deficiencies in the car. If something's not quite right, a good driver can manhandle the car around and get a result. If you look at the results over the years, the street circuits bring out the best drivers, and they suit the cars very well too. Townsville has lots of 90-degree turns and lots of passing, which are exactly what the punters want to see."
Current competition leader Scott McLaughlin has the finish line firmly in his sights after finishing second to Jamie Whincup in Townsville last year.
"The whole year's been about Scott," Ingall says.
"As part of the commentary team, and this is not in a derogatory way, you get sick of saying his name. He's the best qualifier, he's leading the championship and it's no doubt he'll be hard to beat. They're on form and the team's been consistently fast at every sort of track. Scott's got a point to prove after just narrowly missing out on the championship last year."
The 54-year-old, who calls the Gold Coast home, says his transition from the track to television hasn't been an easy one.
"Talking about it is easy because I know it so well. Supercars have been my life since 1996 when I came back from Europe," he says.
"That part of it I found pretty easy. I know the drivers, the teams, the mechanics. The hard bit's been physically sitting there watching the cars go round and not being part of it. As with any sportsman, you've still got an ego. You still think you're probably better than most of the people out there, but that gradually fades.
"The toughest is the first year. Mark Skaife made the comment, 'It's hard isn't it?'. It is. You still think you should be out there. It's easier and better now, and I'm enjoying it. I still do a few endurance races, which is like your nicotine patch. It wasn't an easy transition. I hated life for a while. It was like giving up smoking; you get withdrawals."
Fox Sports will show every practice, qualifying session and race of the Townsville 400 live and ad-break free on Channel 506 today through Sunday.