HOW EARLY is too early for a team to feel real pressure to deliver results?
Is the second event of a 15-round Australia Supercars season too soon to start picking out who is performing and who is not? Common sense suggests it is, given the often hit-and-miss nature of street circuit racing that sometimes rewards and sometimes hurts badly.
So far, some would argue, that’s all we’ve seen this year and that Albert Park offers a much different challenge to the grid.
Most in the paddock suggest that it’s Phillip Island that will serve as the best possible point for judgement on the 2019 Supercars crop. By then, the whole field will have tackled a variety of tracks and conditions, giving a decent spread of races on which to judge performance.
Still, a few teams will be keen to see a quicker turnaround in the form guide this weekend after not particularly flattering performances in Adelaide.
Certainly that is the case within the four walls of Kelly Racing and Walkinshaw Andretti United ahead of this weekend’s Supercars event in Melbourne, alongside the Australian Grand Prix.
Both teams turned in performances that ranged from anonymous to horrible in Adelaide and will have everything crossed that they don’t do the same this weekend on the more open, flowing expanses of Albert Park’s five and a bit kilometres.
Walkinshaw’s run at the Adelaide 500 was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the weekend in South Australia given the fact that a majority of all their recent form had come via results on street tracks.
Even during their rebuilding phase and their transition from being the factory team of Holden, you could generally account for at least one of their Commodores being at the front of the field come Adelaide or Townsville.
Yet last weekend they were mired in the midfield, watching instead as Brad Jones Racing installed themselves as the next most likely of the GM brigade with a pair of stout performances to barely miss the podium.
Compounding the WAU problems was that the team had every reason to expect some success in the opening two races of the year. The team had continuity in drivers, management and ownership and the same machinery as last year, too – which means either they went very much the wrong way in setup compared to where they were twelve months ago, or everyone else has taken a massive step forward and they haven’t.
Most would suggest it’s a little from column A, a little from column B.
So Melbourne is important for the Holden team, based just down the road from the Grand Prix circuit in Albert Park. Not only will all three co-owners of the team be on hand, thanks to Michael Andretti making a quick trip between IndyCar races and Zac Brown being on hand to manage McLaren’s F1 team, but the team are proven winners there, too.
Scott Pye’s remarkable win in the twilight and light rain remains one of the seminal moments of the 2018 season few who witnessed it will forget.
Return to something resembling ‘form’ this weekend, even if it’s not the same fairytale result, and the pressure will lift slightly at Clayton. But if they’re mired in the teens and unable to fight for anything else, the pressure is likely to build.
A little further out in Melbourne’s suburbs you find Kelly Racing – the artist formerly known as Nissan – and another team searching for reasons why they were far from the money in the opening event.
The Altima has traditionally been a reasonably strong contender on street circuits yet it was only Rick Kelly’s stunning qualifying lap on Friday that dragged his car into the shootout for Saturday’s race.
Andre Heimgartner looked on for a top-10 on Sunday but couldn’t convert and that was all she wrote for their four-car squad.
Garry Jacobson had a tough debut to solo main-game competition while Simona De Silversto remains mired down the back in qualifying, even if her race pace is as good as anyone else driving that car.
A tweak to the rear aero of the Nissan’s and their continued efforts to develop what is now a six-year old car gave KR fans hope this year, but they certainly didn’t deliver in the opening round.
Melbourne is a track, again, where they have traditionally performed well (at least in qualifying) so, like their friends from Walkinshaw Andretti United, they’ll be keen to see at least one member of their fleet at the pointy-end come Sunday afternoon.
Obviously, two races into the season on a bumpy, tough and harsh street circuit is too early to judge relative performances of this year’s Supercars crop.
Fail again this weekend, however, and that pressure will only continue to mount and the challenges become harder to face for those teams struggling for early season form in 2019.