Sydney 500 preview: the battle within the garages

It’s almost here! Just four more sleeps and the biggest championship battle in V8 Supercars history will get under way on the unforgiving streets of Homebush.

As if teams didn’t already have enough at stake on the Sydney 500 circuit that’s responsible for more carnage than just about every other track combined, the driver and team championships are at stake. And for Red Bull Racing Australia, it’s a matter of having two brothers battling it out for the 2013 crown – good for the teams’ championship, not so simple for the drivers’ championship.

Only 20 points separate series leader J-Dub from three-time champion Lowndes heading into the two 250km races, and only another 104 points behind is arch nemesis and FPR star Mark “Frosty” Winterbottom.

Team boss RD is hoping for a third consecutive one-two finish for the season but Lowndesy’s side of the garage is hoping for a reversal in the finishing order.

While Lowndes has finished runner-up the past two years to J-Dub, he’s never been within so few points come Sydney. And, he just happens to hold the best race record of any driver at Homebush, having won the past two Saturday races and finished second on both Sundays.

He’s the only driver to have won twice at the 3.4km circuit, which has never gone without a safety car and is responsible for at least 30 per cent of the field retiring each race.

Whincup on the other hand has had a horror run and like he did at Phillip Island, he’s looking to bury the demons in time to win his fifth championship.

J-Dub has won more races than any other driver this year while Lowndesy is the only driver to have finished each and every race. Both are deserved of a championship win.

Add into the calculations the never-before tested twilight conditions on Saturday, with race one to take place as the sun sets over Sydney for the first official weekend of summer, and the Sydney 500 shapes as a punter’s paradise.

But spare a thought for the Red Bull mechanics who, if required, will go without sleep to rebuild both cars two times over if necessary. For Sydney is a nightmare of a circuit for mechanics. And the only proof needed is the 2010 debacle when the three championship contenders – J-Dub, Frosty and James Courtney – all aquaplaned into the cement and rendered the driver championship a race between the respective teams’ mechanics.

History shows that DJR got the car of Courtney back onto the circuit first, and ahead of J-Dub, giving Courtney the 2010 championship as a result. It’s a bitter memory for the Triple Eight crew and we caught up with one of them who was there in 2010 – but playing for the opposite side.

Meet Gooey, lead mechanic on J-Dub’s No.1 Red Bull Commodore.

“The boys still give it to me about working on Courtney’s car that year – they reckon we sent it out unsafe being held together by cable ties,” he says with a grin.

“But the amount I and everyone here has learned from that year will give us a massive advantage this weekend I think. That year, we learned just how hard some things are to change when you’re down to the wire in the last race of the season in a championship battle. In particular, the top control arm that holds the upright for the wheel cost both teams the most time that year. It was so difficult to change when you’ve got a championship battle playing out, so this year we’ve spent a bit of time making a new control arm that’s much easier to replace. And that could be all the difference if we were to have something big happen.”

And that’s on both cars, people. So if we have a repeat of 2010, the RBRA cars should be out first. Better yet, if only one car were to come a cropper – and touch wood neither does – Gooey says both sides of the garage will be coming together to work on that car as one – whether it has a No.1 or No.888 sticker.

“That’s one of the many great things about this team – first to have the forethought to fix a possible problem and avoid dramas, and second that we are one big team when all is said and done,” Gooey continues.

“And you need that for a track like Sydney. As a mechanic, you’re prepared for anything here and prepared for no sleep – seriously. We’ll stay in the garage all night without a second thought. Lucky we’ve got plenty of Red Bull.

“We can rebuild almost anything overnight short of having the chassis twisted.”

So that covers the scary stuff about Sydney. What about the good stuff?

Well, the good news is that qualifying hasn’t really tended to matter all that much. Both of Lowndsey’s race wins have come from outside the top-10 While J-Dub started 14th and 24th respectively last year to finish fifth on both occasions.

Stay tuned this week for all the latest from the engineers and the drivers themselves as we count down to what looms as the single biggest weekend in V8 Supercars history.

We’ll talk team tactics, pit stacking, rivalries and who exactly deserves favouritism.