SOFT TYRE SCENARIO THE BIG UNKNOWN THIS WEEKEND Dunlop's new soft compound 'sprint' tyre has helped add an all new dimension to this year's V8 Supercar championship series across the Tasman. But after two rounds run in cool conditions the big...
SOFT TYRE SCENARIO THE BIG UNKNOWN THIS WEEKEND
Dunlop's new soft compound 'sprint' tyre has helped add an all new dimension to this year's V8 Supercar championship series across the Tasman.
But after two rounds run in cool conditions the big unknown this weekend is how they will last in the tropical heat of the Hidden Valley Raceway circuit in Australia's far north where the sixth round, the Sky City Triple Crown meeting, is being held.
Stone Brothers Racing's SP Tools-sponsored Ford Falcon V8 driver Shane van Gisbergen is a big fan of the tyres, having used them to devastating effect at the Winton round, storming from 27th spot on the grid to sixth at the flag in the first race, then getting another good run out of them at the most recent round in Tasmania.
However like everyone else - drivers, engineers, crew members alike - he has no idea how long they will last - or at least provide superior grip to the standard control tyre - in the 30+C air temperatures that are typical of Darwin at this time of the year.
On the one hand the young Kiwi gun, just turned 20-years-of-age and in his second full season on the V8 Supercar circuit, is looking forward to today's (Thursday) flight north because even on the Gold Coast this year (where he lives) temperatures have been dipping into the single digit figures at night.
"Darwin's always a good round because it's like you get a break from the winter for a weekend. The people up there are good too, everyone's relaxed and friendly and there's always a good atmosphere around the race," he says.
On the other hand tyre management has always played a critical factor at the event because of the relentless heat. And the soft tyre option is going to make that job even harder.
"The good thing," he explains, " is the sprint (soft) tyre is everything a driver of one of these cars could ask for. There's heaps of grip and you can really push the car hard. The downside is that the grip goes away quicker. At a place like Winton or Tassie where it wasn't so hot you could be doing the same lap time give or take a tenth or so for most of your stint but somewhere where it is really hot, like Darwin, or QIR (Queensland International Raceway), the drop-off on the standard control tyre is greater and happens quicker so you can only imagine that the window on the soft tyre would be a lot smaller this weekend."
At the core of the issue are lap times. At both Winton and Tasmania, for instance, drivers like van Gisbergen have been able to manage the gradual loss of grip without losing too much time - never enough, for instance, for the lap times to rise to the point where they are higher than they would be on the harder, control tyre.
In Darwin, however, there is the very real prospect that after providing an early boost in the shorter 34 lap race on Saturday the loss of grip will be so great that lap times will increase to a point where they nullify the earlier advantage.
It's an interesting conundrum but one, as van Gisbergen points out, everyone has to face and make a decision on.
"The soft tyre will be quicker, we know that. What we don't know - and that's the $64,000 question if you like - is for how long!"
Car-wise the young Kiwi is reasonably happy, having qualified fourth quickest for the first race and earned a spot in the Top Ten Shootout and finished sixth in the first race then run as high as third in the second before his car stalled leaving the pits at the most recent series round in Tasmania.
"Yes, " he says,"we found a bit more in the car and got a whole lot more out of the tyre for qualifying in Tasmania which was good. We're still not quite there but we're definitely moving in the right direction. I'm working at it, the guys in the team are working at it and we are seeing results which is good."
Action at Darwin's Hidden Valley Raceway begins tomorrow (Friday) with practice before the first qualifying session, Top Ten Shootout and a 34-lap 'sprint' race on Saturday and the second qualifying session (for the second race) and longer 69 lap main race on Sunday.