IT was four seasons in one day with twice as many red flags as the V8 Supercars returned to Winton ahead of tomorrow’s race one.
On a track that 19 of 28 cars call home and tested at as recently as last week, Red Bull Racing Australia duo Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup were always going to face an uphill battle – and the on-again off-again spurts of rain didn’t help.
In two sessions marred by red flags under the grey Victorian skies, it was difficult for any driver to stay on the track let alone post an impressive time. The Red Bull VF Commodores swapped back and forth between severely worn tyres and wets in typical Winton conditions but despite all that, it was a considerably enjoyable return to the helm for team owner Roland Dane who has re-assumed team principal duties for the weekend.
Leading one-two in the championship, Whincup and Lowndes returned to Winton for the first time in almost a year. And while they mightn’t call the track home, the pair has an impressive record. They have shared six of the past 11 race wins between them, the Red Bull drivers each having claimed a race win in 2012.
But this weekend poses a new challenge entirely – they’ve never raced in a VF Car of the Future.
“We actually have learned a lot and have some good information for tomorrow,” Lowndes said.
“We’ve had very few opportunities to drive in wet conditions this year and we actually progressed the car some. It was actually quite nice to drive. We were really pleased with the car in the wet weather and if it stays like this, I know we’ll be in with a good shot.”
Neither driver was able to post a flying lap before the final session finished with the entire field in the pits as yet another car ended up in the sand trap.
“We put our best tyres on at the end there and got three corners in. But as funny as it sounds, those three corners felt really good and it was actually really encouraging for tomorrow. Let’s just hope we can get more than five laps in at once.”
Reluctant to predict a record 11th pole position for the year, team-mate Whincup did admit a renewed sense of confidence with the addition of some new componentry and set-up techniques on the back of a disappointing campaign in Ipswich last month.
“And we needed it. Almost the whole field test here so we have a lot of ground to make up,” Whincup said.
Qualifying will get under way at 12.25pm tomorrow with the first of three races for the weekend – a 60/60 sprint – starting at 3.35pm. Check out the telecast times here.
Meanwhile, two-time MotoGP champion Casey Stoner was lucky to escape unscathed in the Dunlop Development Series practice sessions with cars flying off the track almost at will in severely wet conditions.
Again, red flags were the order of the day as the both sessions were constantly interrupted, Stoner the victim of a bad-timed red flag in session two which resulted in him missing out on posting a flying flap as he entered the straight with sector times indicating a top-10 finish.
In his first attempt at the Winton circuit where the majority of the field spent their junior careers, Stoner didn’t skip a beat. And in the wake of his top-five finish in Queensland last month he looked a man possessed as he chases his first podium finish.
With 34 cars contesting this weekend’s round, qualifying will be split into two groups with Stoner heading Group Two tomorrow morning in search of a top-10 start.
DVS qualifying gets under way at 10.50am AEST with race one commencing at 2.40pm.