PODIUM BECKONS FOR DECINA RACING
Following today's final test session at Goulburn's Wakefield Park Raceway, Sydney-based Speed FX/Decina Racing is focused on its final Fujitsu V8 Supercar assignment during the Caterpillar Grand Finale at Phillip Island on December 8-10.
At stake is a potential Championship podium for driver Michael Caruso during his maiden year of V8 Supercars and the entire Speed FX/ Decina outfit was left in little doubt about the team's prospects following a tradesman like 60 laps completed today in very hot conditions.
It's been another long wait for the 23-year-old after a memorable Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 event in early October, where Caruso was elevated into the open ranks of the country's number one touring car category in the feature event.
He's fully aware what's at stake during this seventh and final stint behind the wheel for 2006 and would like nothing more than to repay the faith shown in him by Decina Racing team manager Jim Morton.
"If someone had said at the beginning of the year that we'd be fighting for a season podium I would have been over the moon so to be a realistic chance leading into Phillip Island I'm stoked," said Caruso.
"I just wish I could have spent a bit more time behind the wheel today because it's always a great feeling getting out on the track in the Decina Falcon.
"In the Fujitsu Series we've been up against well credentialed, level one guys and remained competitive at every event which is a huge wrap for the team.
"A lot of our guys are only very new to the sport so for all the time and effort they've put in it'd be nice to come away with a trophy to take home.
"After gaining a drive in the main series at Bathurst I've gained even more experience and with that experience your confidence continues to build so I'm sure that will show as we quickly get a handle on the track at Phillip Island."
The current points score has Caruso in fifth position, trailing Jack Perkins by just 30 points while the late Mark Porter, who was tragically killed during the Bathurst round, holds down third spot with an 81-point buffer on Perkins.
Team Manager Jim Morton maintains that the Decina Falcon is in ship-shape condition and he's looking forward to ticking off some more season goals during the final round in Victoria.
"We're hoping today's run in 30 degree heat was a good acclimatisation towards Phillip Island because there's no doubt if the track is dry it will suit Michael's driving style," said Morton.
"Just like Oran Park, Phillip Island is a real driver's track and with Michael in such good form and the car remaining consistent we're sure we can make an impact towards the pointy end of the field.
"We'd actually like to win a race this season after showing good pace at most of the tracks this year.
"That's high on the priority list and will be achievable on the back end of another strong qualifying result.
"That will also hold us in good stead towards 2007."
Morton and Caruso agree the outright car speed they'll draw from the Decina Falcon will be the key to success on the 4.446-kilometre Phillip Island circuit.
The expectation is for a power-packed weekend in the two-race format to decide the 2006 Fujitsu V8 Supercar Championship.
"Considering we've suffered our fair share of drive through penalties this year which has made it difficult to get the results we've wanted, I'm relatively happy with what we've been able to achieve," added Morton.
"Of course in the wash up we'll be wondering what might have been if things had panned out differently but ultimately if we can capture third that would be a major achievement for the entire team.
"Today was probably our second quickest of the five test days we've had this year and considering we used our Phillip Island set-up that's another positive sign.
"We played around a bit with the suspension and gained an overall good understanding of the car so we'll know what we can do to fine tune things come race weekend."
Caruso has sampled Phillip Island success driving Formula 3 and is anticipating a more than competitive fling to close off his first season of competition in V8 Supercars.
"It's an unreal circuit to drive on with the powerful fast straights ensuring there's plenty of fun to be had," confirmed Caruso.
"I haven't raced V8 Supercars in the rain this year so hopefully the gods will be kind and we'll have good weather for racing in a couple of weeks.
"Driving skill is definitely rewarded at Phillip Island particularly if you're willing to have a go, so I can't wait to get in the car and see what we can finish up with."
-credit: Decina Racing