TWO-time MotoGP champion Casey Stoner is on the verge of his most successful weekend in V8 Supercars, the Red Bull driver posting the quickest time in practice at Queensland Raceway to dispel any doubt over his four-wheel potential.
While top category stars Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup tested race set-ups with the rest of the main field ahead of tomorrow’s qualifying and 60/60 sprint format race, Dunlop Series rookie Stoner left a lasting impression on experts as he shot to the top of the time sheets in just his fourth ever V8 Supercars round.
The 27-year-old set the fastest time in practice one of the development series and went faster again in the second session, recording an impressive time of 1.10.99 on used tyres as his rivals opted for fresh rubber to get the better of him late in the session. Even so, Stoner was within four tenths of a second of the leader to finish the second session sixth fastest.
“It’s a pleasant feeling to come to a track we actually know and we really enjoyed it out there,” Stoner said.
“We’re improving with every race and at a track we’ve spent a lot of time at I think we’re in a position to hopefully show our true pace. The car felt good. I know a lot of the guys around me threw on some new tyres at the end but we didn’t have that option and stayed on used tyres. But we’ll all get new sets of greens for qualifying and racing and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Car No.27 engineer John Russell was extremely happy with Stoner’s work, the former Formula 1 engineer confident Stoner can put pressure on the series frontrunners in his Red Bull Pirtek Holden on Saturday.
“It’s a track he knows well and on old tyres, when everyone around him was on new tyres, he did very well,” said Russell, a former engineer to the likes of world champions Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill.
“On poor tyres, he was the quickest out there. He’s starting to get a great feel for the car, he knows the track and we all know he’s a talent. He’s showed good speed all year and there’s no reason he can’t record a reasonable result tomorrow. He’s quick, the car is quick and the way he’s able to take care of his tyres and get faster as the race goes on will have him in good stead. Things are definitely moving in the right direction.”
Stoner will qualify tomorrow at 9.30am with his first of three races over the weekend to get under way at 2.15pm.
Meanwhile, V8 Supercars series leader Whincup and team-mate Lowndes opted for more testing than practice as the pair perfected new race set-ups ahead of final practice, qualifying and race one on Saturday.
Reigning champion Whincup leads Lowndes by 111 points in the championship ahead of the Ipswich round where the latter has won the past five races straight.
Last week the Red Bull Racing Australia drivers completed just their second test session of the season in their VF Commodores at this very circuit, welcoming some new componentry at the halfway point of the season.
On worn tyres, the pair was among the top 10 throughout the final session of the day and the team remains quietly confident of the their chances in race one of three tomorrow.
“It’s been an interesting day, we actually used three sets of tyres. We went through our normal programme changing things and the car actually changed more in balance in the tyre life than what it did instead of the car setup,” Lowndes said.
“The car balance in the end wasn’t too bad, we just didn’t have the grip level in the tyre to match it, so we’re not too concerned at this stage. The guys at the top of the tree were using brand new sets of tyres, which we will probably opt to tomorrow to see where we are, but other than that I’m pretty happy.”
Race One of the Ipswich 360 will be broadcast live on Channel 7 and or Seven Mate from 3.30pm AEST Saturday.