SUPERCARS LINE-UP SEES RETURN OF VETERAN CRAIG BAIRD
The Pirtek Enduro Cup segment of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship is relying almost entirely on Kiwi drivers to provide an international flavour this year.
The grid for this weekend’s Wilson Security Sandown 500 in Melbourne is boosted by Kiwi co-drivers. Veteran Craig Baird makes a return to the endurance driver line-up with Erebus Motorsport to partner David Reynolds while Richie Stanaway and Chris van der Drift will make their Supercar race debuts.
It means the sole non-Australasian driver racing this weekend is Frenchman Alex Premat, who following a four-year association with Garry Rodgers Motorsport is now teamed with title-challenging Kiwi star Shane van Gisbergen in the Red Bull Racing Australia Holden squad.
Last year the likes of Corvette Racing’s Oliver Gavin (GB), Indycar star Sebastien Bourdais (France) and Nissan factory GT racer Alex Buncombe (GB) were called up for endurance duties but they — or drivers from European or North American racing backgrounds — are absent from the 2016 enduro line-up.
For the Supercheap Bathurst 1000 on October 9 there will be the addition of a single 2016 wildcard entry — the returning Harvey Norman SuperGirls effort now in a Nissan Altima – which will add Swiss racer Simona de Silvestro to the international contingent, teamed with Renee Gracie.
The addition of Stanaway alongside Chris Pither at Super Black Racing and van der Drift co-driving with Shae Davies at Erebus Motorsport adds considerable Kiwi interest to the enduro series.
GP2 Series race winner Stanaway (Tauranga) has been able to negotiate an opportunity to step down from Aston Martin Racing for this weekend’s clashing round of the FIA World Endurance Championship at the Circuit of the Americas before slotting the Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600 events either side of the following WEC race at Fuji in Japan.
Stanaway heads into the Sandown weekend having posted his first victory of the season teamed with Darren Turner in the Six Hours of Mexico. Originally from Hamilton, 30-year-old van der Drift brings a race-winning European single-seater career and more recent GT experience — including the 2015 Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title — to the Supercar drive. He has previous Bathurst experience from competing in the 12-hour event.
Along with the van Gisbergen/Premat and Pither/Stanaway combinations, the co-driver assignments for the Kiwi full-time Supercar stars sees Fabian Coulthard paired with Luke Youlden in his DJR Team Penske Ford Falcon, Scott McLaughlin teams with David Wall in the Volvo S60 and Andre Heimgartner partners with Aaren Russell in the LD Motorsport Holden Commodore. Kiwi-born Steven Richards continues alongside Craig Lowndes in the Vortex Triple8 Falcon — the most experienced duo on the endurance series grid.
The Sandown 500 format sees three 30-minute practice sessions on Friday with one more on Saturday morning followed by a 20-minute qualifying session and dual qualifying sprint races. The 500km (161-lap) enduro starts at 3.15pm (NZ time) on Sunday. Also part of the full weekend of live coverage on SkySport will be the Australian Formula 4, Porsche Carrera Cup Australia, the Toyota 86 Championship support categories and the fifth round of Dunlop V8 Development Series.