Supercars teams prepare for night racing return
Supercars teams are preparing for the first race under lights on Australian soil in over 20 years, with the SuperNight 300 set to kick off in Sydney tonight.
Teams and drivers will get their first proper taste of the night conditions during this evening's practice session, the 40-minute hit-out crucial in terms of validating any educated guess work related to both ergonomics and car set-up.
While the teams have been asked not to make any changes to the standard headlight systems by Supercars thanks to lighting conditions honed for the TV cameras, there's likely to be adjustments made to the cockpit for the drivers.
Part of that is lighting things up, with LED light bars set to brighten the drivers for cameras while teams will come up with their own interior light options for switches and adjustment bars. But it's also dulling things like shift lights and dash screens down – that lesson learnt by accident at the Australian Grand Prix earlier this year when the Saturday evening race finished in the dark thanks to a rain storm.
"The last race the finished in the dark is one I’ll never forget, so another result like that would be nice," said Albert Park race winner Scott Pye.
“Adjusting to the little things was important during that race and will be again heading in to this weekend.
"It’s the stuff you usually don’t have to think about like the brightness of dash lights and the sponsor screen in the middle."
A number of teams will run revised liveries designed to come to life under lights, Walkinshaw Andretti United getting that ball rolling with a brighter, whiter look that was debuted in Townsville last month.
Brad Jones Racing and Erebus Motorsport have opted for reflective sticker work, while Matt Stone Racing driver Todd Hazelwood says the team has "a few extra additions to the outside of the car".
In terms of external lighting, only a handful of drivers that were involved in the light testing will go into practice with some understanding of what to expect from the 50 light towers that will be placed around the circuit.
Among them are Simona de Silvestro and Fabian Coulthard, who undertook preliminary testing a year ago, while James Courtney, Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander have significantly more recent experience from the latter stages of testing.
Tander even completed a final test last night in a Porsche 911 road car, following an inspection with race director Tim Schenken, deputy race director Michael Masi, and driving standards advisor Craig Baird.
“We were looking at all the light placements and making sure nothing is obviously glary in your eyes, ensuring they’re in the right spots,” Tander told the Supercars website.
“Between the four of us, we’ve been adjusting small bits and pieces, but the general layout of the lights is really good.
“There’s plenty of light out there, we’ll be able to see everything we need to see, and it doesn’t really look like there’s anything that can trip us up.”
For much of the rest of the field, however, Friday's practice will be a step into the unknown.
"It’s going to be interesting to see how good and effective the lights are," said Mark Winterbottom. "The first test we saw, the lights were alongside the track, and now they’re behind fences, so Friday night will still be a little testing on the fly, seeing what the vision is like."
In terms of car set-up, many of the pre-event question marks are centred around balancing the UV-sensitive Dunlop control tyres between the day and night sessions.
And again, it won't be until practice starts on Friday evening, a little over 24 hours before the race, that teams will be able to put any theories they have about night running into practice.
"Straight from the outset the first practice session on Friday will be crucial, as this is the only time other than the race that the cars are on track at night," said MSR head of engineering Wes McDougall.
“This means gathering information on tyre temperatures and pressures, as well as the correct blanking to use for the engine and brake temperatures will be of vital importance.
“The Sydney Motorsport Park track changes grip levels a lot—with both temperature and UV levels—so the trick will be understanding that and having a good car for qualifying in the day, but more importantly having a good car in Saturday's night race.”
BJR engineer Tony Woodward added that air density will play a key role in both aero performance and fuel economy.
“The temperatures are going to be drastically different in the middle of the night compared to what we’re used to in the day,” Woodward said.
“So things like radiator gurneys, brake [blanking] lengths, we’ll obviously increase them to get back into the operating window.
“The other things that happen is the air is a lot colder, a lot more dense, so the engine will make more power and drink more fuel, so fuel economy will go up.
“Because the air is more dense, there will be more downforce, both on the front and rear, so distribution will change a little bit.”
Practice kicks off at 6pm this evening.
What makes McLaughlin a Supercars qualifying master
Sydney Supercars: Mostert tops crucial night practice