V8 battle far from over: Courtney
JAMIE Whincup arrived in the Northern Territory this week a firm favourite to win this year's V8 Supercar Championship title.
However, history suggests it's still too early in the season to predict the eventual outcome.
Jamie has driven his Team Vodafone Commodore to victory in five of the 11 races in the previous five rounds, and leads the series by 262 points from team-mate Craig Lowndes.
Despite Jamie's excellent results, the battle for the title is far from over, especially when considering what happened in 2010.
Jamie led the 2010 championship by more than 200 points after four rounds, but I caught him up and eventually went on to claim the title.
There are still nine rounds remaining this year, and a maximum of 2,700 championship points on offer, so there are plenty of opportunities for others to close the gap on Jamie, especially if he has problems.
There is less than 60 points separating Lowndes in second place, Garth Tander (Toll Holden Racing Team), Jason Bright (Brad Jones Racing Commodore), and Shane Van Gisbergen (Stone Brothers Racing Falcon).
Tander, Bright, and Van Gisbergen have all won races this year, and along with Lowndes, are best placed to apply pressure on Whincup.
Unfortunately, I've had inconsistent results since my race win in Abu Dhabi in February, and I'm back in 13th and 618 points off the championship lead.
This week's round will be held on the 2.9km Hidden Valley circuit near Darwin.
Practice is on Friday, and there are races over 120km on Saturday and 200km on Sunday. Separate qualifying sessions will be held before both races.
All 28 Commodores and Falcons will be fitted with Dunlop's durable 'control' tyres in the first race.
However, each car will be allocated one set of soft-compound 'sprint' tyres to use at any time in the second race, and use 'control' rubber for the remaining laps.
Teams will adopt different strategies in the second race, with some using 'sprint' tyres in the opening or middle stints while others will save them for the run to the finish.
Darwin's traditional afternoon temperatures of around 30-degrees means 'sprint' tyres will probably lose optimum grip quicker than when we raced in cooler weather in the previous round at Winton in Victoria in May.
The Hidden Valley track layout combines a long front straight (1.1km) and 14 corners. Top-end speed is important, and you need a car that flows through the tight turns in the back section.
I have made 14 championship race starts at Hidden Valley since 2006, and my best result was fourth in race two in our previous visit 12 months ago.
Both Garth Tander and I had the opportunity to test our HRT Commodores at Winton earlier this month.
We worked on improvements which we hope will help us at Hidden Valley and the remainder of the season.
The test was attended by our new Racing Operations Manager Mike Henry. He has held various positions in the Walkinshaw Group on and off for 23 years and was strategist with the HSV Dealer Team when it won championships with Rick Kelly in 2006 and Tander the following year.
The appointment was part of some changes in the Walkinshaw organisation. These included the departure of former HRT team manager Rob Crawford and Walkinshaw Racing Managing Director Craig Wilson.
Championship points (after round 5):
Jamie Whincup (Holden) 1,234
Craig Lowndes (Holden) 972
Garth Tander (Holden) 935
Jason Bright (Holden) 920
Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) 913
Rick Kelly (Holden) 887
Alex Davison (Ford) 825
Will Davison (Ford) 813
Steve Johnson (Ford) 808
Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 797
Fabian Coulthard (Holden) 721
Lee Holdsworth (Holden) 646
James Courtney (Holden) 616