This weekend's Armor All Gold Coast 600 will host no less than 18 of the worlds most versatile and fastest drivers on the revamped street circuit. Following the exit of the IndyCar series in 2008 and the failed collapse of the A1 Grand Prix series last year, Australia's premier motor racing category will have for the first time number one billing, with it's own race and an international flavour.
Drivers include Tiago Monteiro (Centaur Racing), David Brabham (Irwin Racing), Aussies Will Power (Dunlop Super Dealer/Ford Performance Racing) and Ryan Briscoe (Toll Holden Racing Team), Scott Dixon (Jack Daniel's Racing), Mika Salo (Bundaberg Red Racing), Alex Tagliani (Rock Racing), Gianni Morbidelli (Triple F Racing), Alain Menu (Trading Post Racing), Dario Franchitti (Jim Beam Racing), Sebastian Bourdais (Dick Johnson Racing), Fabrizio Giovanardi (Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing), Scott Pruett (Gulf Western Oils Racing), Patrick Long (Fujitsu Racing), Helio Castroneves (Wilson Security Racing), Yvan Muller (Castrol Edge Racing), Jacques Villeneuve (The Bottle O Racing Team) and Andy Priaulx (Team Vodafone).
During yesterday's practice sessions drivers acclimatized to the ever hot conditions and tackled the 600 hp V8 Supercars. For nine of those drivers it was their first time in these cars and for others their first time around the concrete jungle.
The modified track which has been home to the race since 1991 has been cut short by 1.5 kilometers after the removal of the second chicane along the front straight. Drivers now have to jump on the brakes and turn hard left which takes them onto Beach Parade.
Of the 37 races held since 1994, Ford have dominated with 21 wins, although Holden have clinched 17 pole positions.
Fastest of the overseas contingent yesterday was former F1 and Indy Car champion Jacques Villeneuve who is partnering Paul Dumbrell, with 2010 Le Mans Series GT2 champion Patrick Long in 5th and Englishman and former World Touring Car pilot Andy Priaulx. Those to taste the Australian concrete included Helio Castroneves during the first session and Alex Tagliani touching the tyre wall in session three.
Defending Gold Coast champion Mark Winterbottom was quickest with a blistering 1:12:34, followed by Dumbrell and series leader James Courtney with a 1:12:50. Winterbottom said, "The car was good today, it's an awesome track and you can really push it"
This year's race is the first stand alone event and V8 Supercars boss Tony Cochrane has indicated that next year he will be looking at putting an international driver into all of the 29 cars in the series. This came after strong support from the regular drivers and teams.