Supercars fans are accustomed to watching New Zealanders fight out races, and this weekend’s four races for the Beaurepaires Supercars Melbourne 400 at the Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2020 could be a battle between two Kiwis - or even three.
Following Thursday’s Qualifying sessions for the first two races at the Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit Shane Van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin will have plenty of eyes on them - but their countryman André Heimgartner may be well-placed to join the battle.
Van Gisbergen will sleep easiest on Thursday night, after taking pole for one race and fourth for the other.
“The qualifying format is tricky because it’s just like a shootout,” said the Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver.
“I felt like I nailed the first lap of the second qualifying, the second lap the car didn’t feel as good on the out-lap and didn’t quite get the lap right but I’m still in fourth for the second race on a bad lap which is pretty good.”
McLaughlin, who won three of the four races at Albert Park last year, will start the two races from fourth and fifth place, respectively.
“I’ve got a very neutral car, so it’s quite frustrating trying to work out how to give [engineers] Ludo [Lacroix] and Richard [Harris] feedback on what I want. I don’t know if I want more turn, or more drive and I don’t want to give away one for the other.”
McLaughlin is also feeling the aero changes made to his Shell V-Power Ford Mustang during the off-season.
“The aero changes have definitely made a difference, the downforce is lower for sure. The cars feel similar, but they’re slower. The overall balance is the same, there’s just less grip.”
But Heimgartner could be the wildcard after qualifying fifth and ninth in his Kelly Racing Ford.
“We’re fairly relieved to get a good result today in qualifying, I think Adelaide just didn’t suit the setup and we were still getting our heads around everything. We’ve definitely learnt a lot both in terms of engineering the car and driving and overall I’m really happy with that, we’ve got a good place to start tomorrow.”
Australia’s best hopes look to be Jamie Whincup, who has qualified second and first for the two races, in which he predicts tyre preservation will play a big part.
“Obviously, tyres are the big topic this weekend,” said the seven-time Supercars champion. “We did three-quarters of practice one on hard tyres to feel what the car was like and get a bit of a balance, then we did the rest on softs. Fingers crossed tomorrow’s race will go in our favour with pit stops and strategy but being one and two off the line is a nice way to start.”
The Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix 2020 runs in Melbourne until Sunday. Book online and save up to $10* on AusGP Park Pass tickets before prices increase at the gate.