Past performances at the Oran Park Raceway in New South Wales indicate that the record breaking domination of the Holden camp will continue in this weekend¹s ninth round of the Shell Championship Series, although a recently buoyed Ford camp are quietly confident of breaking the streak.
The Holden drivers have racked up 16 consecutive Shell Series round wins over the past 12 months, eclipsing the mark set by the all-conquering Ford Sierras more than a decade ago. In their push for number 17, the Holden teams will have a new reverse-grid race and the increasingly competitive Fords of Glenn Seton and Paul Radisich to contend with.
Mark Skaife has been the standout in Holden¹s streak - claiming six of the 16 wins, two this year - and he carries a strong points lead into this weekend¹s round.
He is also the favourite to take another victory at a circuit where his Holden Racing Team has taken pole and won the round for the last four years. But he acknowledges that the 2000 Oran Park round will not be the pushover it seemed to be in 99 when he won everything on offer.
"With the reverse grid it will make it that much harder for us to have a repeat of the Oran Park success of the last few years," said Skaife. "But our cars go well there and as well as it being a great drivers¹ circuit and one of my favourites, it¹s sort of our second hometrack so I¹ll be giving it my best."
The reverse grid will be introduced for the second of the three sprint heats. The finishing order of the top six in heat one will be reversed to shape the front three rows for the second stanza. With every winner of the 22 sprint races run so far in 2000 coming from the front two rows, the change could well throw up a new winner.
"I think introducing something new, an element of the unknown is good," said Radisich. "The top six guys are normally pretty even in the sprint races so it just makes the racing a bit more entertaining and might give someone new a chance to challenge for the win."
Winning is something Radisich would love to do. A second placing at the recent Winton round was just reward for the Kiwi flier who scrapped hard all day in the Shell Helix Falcon and has endured some rotten luck since joining the V8 Supercar ranks last year.
It was his first podium result for the year and the highest round placing for any Ford driver in 2000 and it has encouraged ŒThe Rat¹ to push harder to get his elusive first round win and to break the Holden streak.
"We are improving our cars and feel we have gained a bit in so far as power down is concerned which is important at a fast track with sweeping corners like Oran Park, so we will be closer to the mark this year," he said.
Glenn Seton is another hoping the reverse grid lottery can turn luck his way. Seton¹s Tickford Ford had looked a certain winner in the last round at Winton before rotten luck struck in the decisive heat, relegating him to third overall.
"It was great to come out of Winton with a good result," he said. "More importantly, we were genuinely the fastest out there at Winton and I hope we can go to Oran Park and repeat the performance, only this time with a bit of good luck on our side."
After the Oran Park round, a new initiative from TEGA and AVESCO will be implemented in an effort to redress the imbalance which has seen Holdens set their record breaking win sequence. Both manufacturers will carry a common undertray which, in theory, will give them equal aerodynamic downforce.
The decision was set to take affect this round, but time constraints on the manufacturing of the new parts means they will not be ready until the next round at Calder in Victoria.
"The fact that Winton was the first time Holden haven¹t been 1-2 all year shows how sad it must be for the fans," said Radisich. "The common undertray is a step in the right direction. We will know a lot more when we get to try them out and evaluate them but it is heading the right way as far as evening things up goes."
But for this round at Oran Park, the form guide tells us that Seton and Radisich will have to fight tooth and nail if they are to overcome the Holdens of Skaife, Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander.
Points Overall: 1)Skaife 918; 2)Seton 798; Tander 756; 3)Lowndes 714; 4)Radisich 671; 5)Murphy 563; 6)Ingall 544; 7)Longhurst 529; 8)Johnson 527; 9)Bargwanna, Crompton 487; 11)Larkham - 482