Richards: "We're at the pointy end" Tasman Motorsport's Jason Richards has finished on the second and third steps of a V8 Supercar podium, though the Kiwi feels that a landmark victory for the team is not only a reasonable...
Richards: "We're at the pointy end"
Tasman Motorsport's Jason Richards has finished on the second and third steps of a V8 Supercar podium, though the Kiwi feels that a landmark victory for the team is not only a reasonable expectation, but not far away on the horizon as he heads to Hidden Valley, Darwin for round five of the series this weekend.
The 30-year-old, who won a reverse grid race in the last round at Winton, was unlucky not to finish on the podium after contact in the critical first race created an uphill battle for the remainder of the round.
"We've hit the pointy end of the field, there's no doubt," Richards said.
"We just have to hit our potential and we will be able to win on our own merits and not have to benefit from the reverse grid format.
"We certainly are thinking we're in line to meet some of our KPIs, which is winning rounds this year.
"We should certainly be able to take a round win given the performance we've had. It's just about making all the moons line up so we can achieve the result."
A blasting fight back in race three at Winton, a track notoriously difficult to overtake on, leaves last year's Bathurst runner-up with no doubt that the Melbourne-based team is on the right path and has the pace to race with the established teams.
"The growth of the team has been ongoing this year.
"We're in our third year and we now have had the chance to go back to tracks where we've raced our current chassis and engine combination before, which is a great help in building our data bank.
"I'm probably as enthusiastic about my racing as I ever have been. It's been a process of growing along with the team, but now the benefits of the work are shining through and the light in the tunnel is getting closer and closer."
Highlights for Richards this year include a top four qualifying performance in Adelaide followed up by a new lap record, breaking the mark held by former series champion Marcos Ambrose.
A third-place finish at the Grand Prix, which was later dubiously taken away by race officialdom over a first corner passing move, and a career- best third place qualifying performance at Winton all are signs that things are on the rise.
Richards was strong at Hidden Valley last year, taking the #3 Tasman Commodore to sixth place in Race 2 after starting a lowly 25th on the grid. A spin in the final race meant Richards finished 13th for the round.
His Tasman team-mate Andrew Jones has been steadily improving in the #23 SEW-Eurodrive Commodore and is keen to break out of being stuck in the midfield and the carnage it usually generates.
The 26-year-old points to the pace he generated at Winton - albeit without much of a final result to show for it - as the proof that it's possible.
"The focus for Darwin and the rest of the season is qualifying in a stronger position and being able to take advantage of the speed the Tasman cars have shown to be clear of the mid-pack dramas," Jones said.
"That way we'll grab a decent result with the #23 car.
"Last year was the first time I'd been to Darwin. The way the circuit flows around the back section is actually quite tricky.
"The heat element is something I actually enjoy too. It adds another dimension to a race weekend. Spending an hour or so in that temperature in Darwin is quite hard mentally and physically.
"Doing a single sprint race in Darwin is nearly like doing a 250-kilometre race in Adelaide, except you do it three times over the weekend.
"I feel we'll have good speed at Hidden Valley. The race pace has been good this year, but qualifying has been a weakness. We've made very, very small improvements in that area over the four rounds so far, but no big chunks of time that will move us noticeably up the grid as of yet."
The Hidden Valley round is a three-race format featuring a 100-kilometre sprint race on Saturday. There will be two races on Sunday, each of 140- kilometres in length and also each with a compulsory tyre stop. Race 2 on Sunday remains a full reverse grid race.
Network Ten will telecast the Hidden Valley action, beginning with highlights of Race 1 on the evening of Saturday July 1 after its AFL telecast. It will broadcast the second two races on Sunday July 2 from 2pm to 5pm AEST.