Straight into the deep end

Well, would you look at that, the endurance season starts in just two days and it still hasn’t hit us.

Just like every year, the enduros creep up on us quicker than Jamie can run out of fuel, and just like every year, we’re working to the eleventh-hour prepping everything. In our defence, we do have extra drivers and extra miles to account for.

To kick the enduro season off, we head to chilly Victoria for the Sandown 500, a 3.1-kilometre fast flowing circuit.

It’s a track that we know very well – in fact, our three-car endurance team line-up has a whopping 2,214 Supercars Championship race starts under their belts.

And as if experience wasn’t enough, Jamie “J-Dub” Whincup has had six Sandown 500 podium finishes between 2005 and 2014 and currently holds the qualifying lap record of 1:08.5730s. Okay, we’ll stop boasting now (sorry J-Dub).

Experience and records aside, we do have a newbie joining us for the endurance season and his name is Bam Bam… Short for Bamber, or long… We’re not sure how that works.

If you don’t know who he is, just look at his incredible international racing CV that features two Le Mans 24 Hour victories alongside a 2017 World Endurance Championship title. Yep, ‘24 Hour’ and ‘Endurance’ are key words… It basically means Earl is good at driving long and fast.

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Bam Bam first got to know Bambii (that’s car #97’s name) while he was in town for Winton – and by ‘got to know’ we mean a quick 20 minutes around Winton Raceway in the pouring rain.

Our pre-endurance season testing last week was Bam Bam’s first real hit out and according to all reports, i.e. main driver Shane “SVG” van Gisbergen, Earl smashed it (in a good way).

“His pace was pretty awesome, within 15 laps he was within a few tenths, so that’s what you need,” SVG said.

“He has just been working away at the thing to find those last couple of tenths which is just going to come with time and more laps.

“Obviously he was in the car at Winton but now it’s been good for him to go through the setup changes and see what it does.

“The tyres don’t last very long in this category, but he’s driven in plenty of categories where that’s the case, so he’s used to that. It’s just been interesting for him to feel them lose grip and why they lose grip.”

While he looks like he knows what he’s doing from the outside, how did Bam Bam think he went?

“Well, I’m just getting used to the ergonomics of the car, working through one or two things in the cockpit,” said Bam Bam.

“The more laps you do the better you get inside the car, so that’s the main thing. Shane still beats me in some spots, so I’ve got to try and beat him.”

Oooo, we sense a competitive streak there, nice!

In typical SVG style, he has a new co-driver for the enduros with Earl being his seventh different co-driver from his eight Sandown 500 starts. Not that it phases him, considering he has finished on the podium in two of his last three starts.

So, another year, another Sandown – what does SVG expect this time around?

“It’ll be tough, there were a lot of fast cars at the race last year,” said SVG.

“We just have to be there all day and try and start up front and stay there.”

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Simple really… We wonder if he’s told Bam Bam it’s this simple…

“I’ve heard that it’s quite a low grip surface and that’s quite a challenge. I’ve also heard it’s quite tough on the kerbs, bouncing over them as well as a few high-speed corners.

“Generally, it looks like a tough challenge, so I’m looking forward to going to a new track.

“I’m happy to have driven the car, I know the car quite well, wet or dry, so now it’s a matter of learning a new circuit on Friday.”

Simple, really.

On the other side of the garage, where J-Dub and his co-driver Paul “PD” Dumbrell reside, there’s not as much learning going on, they’re all over it (well J-Dub likes to think he is).

And Sandown, well it’s basically where PD lives so he’s just excited to sleep in his own bed every night.

“The weather is always questionable down there,” PD said (yawn…).

“I think all in all, the team has had good speed over the last four or five races so that gives us a lot of momentum. And in this sport, momentum is key so hopefully we can start the ball rolling well.

“Every year is always good; this time of year is very exciting.”

Right on, PD, we’re as ready as ever now!