27 Feb 2019
By Jack Perkins
Finally the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship Series is here, with the Superloop Adelaide 500 again getting a brand new season under way.
There’s no better way to start a new season, and this year we get to see the stars of the show and their new cars a day earlier - for the first time in the event's history, Supercars will kick off their First Practice on Thursday.
This gives the drivers, teams and - most importantly - the fans a great opportunity to see the cars on track a day earlier than previous years.
The Championship has seen plenty of changes in the off-season, with some drivers finding new homes, and the return of the highly anticipated Ford Mustang replacing the Falcon as the steed of choice for the Blue Oval.
Here are some of my thoughts ahead of the 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship's opening round at the Superloop Adelaide 500.
Return of the Mustang
The Mustang has been one of, if not the biggest talking points during the off-season. Replacing the Ford Falcon, the Ford brand continues in our sport with the Mighty Mustang, which won five straight titles in the 1960s!
This year we'll see six Mustangs on the Superloop Adelaide 500 grid, and everyone is really keen to see how they will perform around the Adelaide Parklands Circuit.
It’s been an enormous workload for the two Ford teams (DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing) to make it to Adelaide, and with limited body spares, I wouldn’t want to be the first driver to taste the concrete walls around this circuit!
I think the Mustang will perform really well, moreso the two DJR Team Penske than the Tickford cars. Underneath the Mustang bodywork, the “go fast parts” such as suspension are the same as last season, and there was no doubting the form of Scott McLaughlin last year.
So, can a Mustang complete a fairytale and win on debut at Adelaide? Yes, it can, and if it happens my guess is it will be our current Champion, Scott McLaughlin.
My form guide
I’ve touched on McLaughlin being the Ford Mustang’s best chance at a debut win, but I’m not rating him as the outright favourite, although he’s in the top three!
For me it’s really hard to go past the two Superloop Adelaide 500 “gurus” in recent years, and that’s Shane van Gisbergen and James Courtney.
In the last six years, either SVG or JC have won five times (on the Sunday). No matter what car or team these two are in, they always perform really well around this track. They both love the event and the long races really suit them. So my prediction is those three will be on the podium for sure, but David Reynolds will be knocking on their heels trying to grab a spot up on that podium.
Such is the depth of the Championship, there's certainly many others that could surprise us this year, and some may even cause an upset.
Will Davison is one driver from Ford to keep an eye on. A previous winner around the Adelaide streets with Tickford Racing (formerly FPR), he returns with the same team (23Red Racing) this year, in a customer car, but it's very much a Tickford Racing car. He was in the Top 10 last year here and in a much smaller team. Now back in a bigger team, with more resources and a Mustang, he might just well be a surprise on the podium!
Selecting a “roughie" from the Holden camp is hard through sheer weight of numbers! David Reynolds and Erebus will be very, very fast, but they’ve shaken their tag as dark horses these days, and they are now genuine contenders!
Holden's dark horse could also be Mark Winterbottom. The car is from the Triple Eight stable, they’ve put together a great team with a handy engineer in Phil Keed, who was at DJR Team Penske in 2017. The hardest thing for this team is not having a team mate; Frosty will be relying on every part of his experience to carry this team to a result and around the streets of Adelaide that may just return a podium finish.
Kelly Racing are still racing Nissan Altimas in the Championship. It’s difficult to go past Rick Kelly to fly the flag here, his championship form last year was great with a pole position, race win and a few podiums, and he'll be wanting to keep that going.
Scotty is the man to beat this year
I think 2019 is wide open. Such an unknown is the performance of the Mustang, but my feeling is it will be super fast, and I’m predicting Scott McLaughlin to go back-to-back with DJR Team Penske.
They won last year in a car they didn’t design (the Falcon). Now, they’ve designed their first car, the Mustang, and it won't be any slower than last year's car.
Who can take it to Scotty? In no particular order watch for: David Reynolds, Shane Van Gisbergen, Chaz Mostert, and never take your eye off seven-time Champion Jamie Whincup!
Things you'll love this year
Like you, I just can’t wait for the racing to get back under way!
We're all excited to see the storylines unfold throughout the year...
How will the Mustang perform? Can Scotty go back-to-back? How will Red Bull respond? Will we miss Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander? Will we see a first-time race winner? Or a first time champion?
There are lots of storylines for the Superloop Adelaide 500 as well: the return of the Mustang, Winterbottom in a Holden, two rookies joining the field and the twilight sessions, including qualifying Friday evening and the first race Saturday evening.
Then, after the race Sunday, I expect to see just about all of the drivers at the Red Hot Chilli Peppers!
Can't wait to see you at the Superloop Adelaide 500.
Check out Jack Perkins chatting to some of the Supercars drivers live on the Superloop Adelaide 500 Facebook page throughout the event, including a live interview with the winner on Sunday.