CALTEX AIMS AT SANDOWN 500 HAT-TRICK
Caltex-backed drivers will be aiming to win Caltex's third straight Betta Electrical Sandown 500 crown as the V8 Supercar Championship Series enters the first endurance race of the season this weekend in Melbourne.
Caltex Ambassador and defending Sandown 500 winner Craig Lowndes will be looking to maintain his V8 Supercar championship lead at Sandown Paired with Clipsal 500 winner and regular team-mate Jamie Whincup, the Caltex-backed #888 Team Betta Electrical Falcon forms one of the most formidable driver line-ups for the race. Lowndes and Whincup are both of a similar height, enjoy similar car set-up preferences and are also the only Ford drivers to claim round victories so far this season.
A Caltex victory would be the third-straight win for the brand at the traditional lead up to the Bathurst 1000 at the Melbourne venue, with Marcos Ambrose and Greg Ritter victorious in the 2004 Betta Electrical Sandown 500 in the Caltex-backed Pirtek Racing Falcon in 2004.
Caltex Racing's Russell Ingall will be another flying the Caltex flag high at Sandown. Just as he was in his championship-winning season last year, Ingall is joined by in the #1 Caltex Racing Falcon by Luke Youlden.
Ingall and Youlden have both scored Sandown 500 podiums in the past, Ingall finishing second in the Caltex Racing Falcon, partnered by Cameron McLean in 2004, and Youlden finishing third with Steven Ellery in the Super Cheap Auto Falcon in 2003.
Ingall and the Caltex Racing crew found some extra pace from the Caltex Falcon for the races at the last round of the championship at Sydney's Oran Park, giving the Caltex Racing crew a surge of confidence heading into Sandown. The defending V8 Supercar Champion was on a charge up the order towards a podium result at Oran Park before contact with another car halted his progress.
Youlden has gained extra racing miles of late in both the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series and WPS Carrera Cup Championship. He was one of the most impressive non-full time V8 Supercar drivers in last year's endurance races, making the Caltex Racing entry another of the favourites for this weekend's 500 kilometre race.
One of the entries to watch for this year's V8 Supercar endurance races will undoubtedly be the Caltex-backed #88 Team Betta Electrical Falcon of Ireland's Richard Lyons and Danish driver Allan Simonsen.
Lyons and Simonsen are the only driver combination to both hail from outside of Australasia in this year's endurance races and despite their foreign origins, they are shaping as one of the surprise packages for this year's Sandown 500 in the Caltex-backed Team Betta Electrical Falcon.
While Simonsen has previous V8 Supercar experience with Autobarn Racing and Garry Rogers Motorsport, Lyons, the 2004 Formula Nippon and Japanese Super GT Champion, will be making his V8 Supercar debut this weekend at Sandown. Depsite this, Lyons has been impressive in testing at Queensland Raceway, as has Simonsen, making this international combination a wildcard for a surprise result.
James Courtney will return to the scene of his V8 Supercar debut this weekend when pairs with the experienced Glenn Seton in the Jeld-Wen Motorsport Falcon. Courtney is filled with confidence entering this weekend after his breakthrough round at Oran Park last month. Courtney was third for the round, his first V8 Supercar podium, and paired with two-time V8 Supercar champ Seton, could be on the verge of adding to his V8 Supercar trophy cabinet.
Russell Ingall - #1 Caltex Racing Falcon
"We'll be treating this weekend the same as any other race weekend; just try to go out and win it," said Ingall.
"With the position that we are in the championship, it's not a points collection exercise anymore. We have to win now, so it will be a matter of holding it flat straight out the gate and no caution. We've just got to go hard as we are too far down the list. If you ask some of the other guys like Lowndes and Tander you might get a different answer but you drive to what position you are in the championship.
"Pairing up with the same driver as last year never goes astray. You know them and know what they are like. It's going to be a tough gig for Luke, there are some very strong combos on the other side of the fence and on our side too, like Lowndes and Whincup. That's a lot of pressure when you are a V8 Supercar part-timer against combinations like that.
"I'm confident Luke will do a good job, it's just a matter of keeping the pace up. It's up to me to put the car in good a position so that Luke's not under extra pressure and can work on maintaining position."
Luke Youlden - #1 Caltex Racing Falcon
"For me, I tend to treat Sandown a bit like the sprint races, just lap every lap as fast as possible," said Youlden.
"I try not to think of the pressures of co-driving with a Championship contender. I just try to block that out as much as possible but I also use it in situations when it is a little risky, it helps with some of those decisions out there.
"I've done a fair bit of driver training at Sandown this year so I've done a lot of laps. Competing in the WPS Carrera Cup Porsche will also give me a few more miles. The WPS Carrera Cup cars this year are a bit more relative to a V8 than they have been in the past so that will help to get my eye in also.
"I find the busy schedule of competing in a couple of categories good. It helps to control the nerves when you are going straight from one thing to the other. I've done it before at enduros so it's not new to me.
"I'm really rapt about teaming up with Russell again, I get along with him well and it's a good combo. Hopefully we can come out of the enduros with Russell leading the Championship like we did last year, that's my aim. I'm looking forward to being part of an SBR resurgence."
Craig Lowndes - #888 Team Betta Electrical Falcon
"The team has dedicated a huge amount of time into ensuring the car is performing well for Sandown, and it simply is the best V8 Supercar I've driven," said Lowndes.
"This week's test at Queensland Raceway had an endurance race focus, with the team practicing pit stops and myself and Jamie making sure we had the driver change procedure perfected as every second in pitlane is important.
"I could not have asked for a better co-driver in Jamie, as well as being a quick and level-headed driver he also runs a very similar setup aboard his regular car which means we can both focus on racing rather than adapting to each others changes.
"Melbourne's changeable weather always seems to play a part in the Betta Electrical 500 and I'm confident we'll be able to set a cracking pace whether it is dry or wet.
"We're entering the business end of the season now, and strong endurance race results are essential to maintain the team's push for its first championship."
Jamie Whincup - #888 Team Betta Electrical Falcon
"Aside from developing a few new parts, this week's test was purely endurance-focused with myself and Craig practicing numerous driver changes and the team working on setting quick pit-stop times," said Whincup.
"There were a number of positives to come from the test, and one of the biggest was that I feel just as comfortable and capable in Craig's car as I have in my own all season.
"We know the team has what it takes to win at Sandown but every round presents a new challenge and new circumstances, we're very well prepared and I'm very focused on setting fast, consistent laps for the entire race distance.
"I've taken on a different role for the race, I won't be going out there to break lap records, rather I'll be looking to bring home a perfect Betta Electrical Falcon at the end of each stint.
"It should be a fantastic weekend, I can't wait to get underway."
Richard Lyons - #88 Team Betta Electrical Falcon
"I have worked closely with the team in the last few weeks and we got the chance to go testing on Wednesday and get a good feel for how the car responded, while it certainly is different to anything I've driven before, I'm confident that I've gotten a pretty good handle on it for Sandown," said Lyons.
"Allan has quite a bit of experience in the category and knows what it takes to race at the top level for the duration of these long events, we're quietly confident of a good result."
Allan Simonsen - #88 Team Betta Electrical Falcon
"The test was very solid, the car is quick and the team very professional about their racing, its great to be paired with Richard and I believe we have a good chance at Sandown next weekend," said Simonsen.
"Triple Eight clearly understand what it takes to win races in this championship, they have been dominant this season and seem to be right up there in terms of car speed and handling. I look forward to racing next weekend.
James Courtney - #4 Jeld-Wen Motorsport Falcon
"It's great to be going to a track that I raced on last year. I guess it's an added bonus that I drove the track in all conditions last year, in the wet and the dry; in the dry with wets, in the wet with slicks, just about every combination imaginable. So I'm ready for anything.
"The Sandown event is known to have changeable conditions, you can only prepare to an extent and then you just have to brace yourself that anything can happen.
"Driving with Glenn will be good. We are able to work well together; Glenn is comfortable in his position and willing to share information with me. I'm sure I will be able to tap into his experience and hopefully get us a good result."
Glenn Seton - #4 Jeld-Wen Motorsport Falcon
"My best memories of the Sandown endurance race is when I won the there in 1990 with George Fury in a Ford Sierra," said Seton.
"It was also great winning the Sandown round of the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1997 when we dominated and won all three races.
"Sandown is a pretty straight forward track from the driver's side of things. Over the top of the hill into the left hand sweeper is probably the most challenging part of the circuit. You need good traction, power down and brakes for that part, it's absolutely critical there.
"I'm often asked about providing experience and advice to James but he is more than capable of taking any challenge on. He's run throughout the world and also at Sandown last year so there is nothing I can tell him.
"It's great that one of the windows will have 'Courtney Seton' on it; my daughter Courtney is rapt about that, she'll get a real kick out of it as it is beamed out on TV!"