Five bold predictions for the 2018 Supercars Championship
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Tomorrow will mark two weeks until the first round of the 2018 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
Time to get hyped around new paint schemes, time to scroll through the new merchandise to figure out which race-team sponsor's colours you're going to wear loudly and proudly to the next family wedding.
And time to write speculative articles like this one.
It's a bit of a crucial year for Supercars. I'm sure say this every year, but it's a bit truer than usual this time around. 2018 represents year one of the 'Gen2' formula, and with only one manufacturer drawing a line in the sand and hopping on the bandwagon, Supercars are in for a rough time if they can't get more to join in by the end of the season.
And that's really just the tip of the storyline iceberg. Here are five tip-offs for the season ahead.
The ZB Commodore will be quick straight away
The new Holden ZB Commodore road car has been met with plenty of criticism. We all expected it ... you'd be silly not to.
The most common criticism (apart from it not being a fair dinkum meat pies kangaroos and koala bears Aussie-built car) is how it looks. "It looks like a Mazda 6!" many have observed. Fine, the Mazda 6 is a nice looking car.
You know what the race car adaptation looks like? A freaking Volvo S60 Supercar. And what car was a rocketship out of the box? The Volvo.
Some of this had to do with that flat-plane Yamaha V8, and some had to do with a certain Scott 'Jandal' McLaughlin, but people also point to the aerodynamics as a reason for success. Because the S60 was a smaller base platform than the VF Commodore and the others, things like the wings had to be elongated to match the regulative cookie cutters. And the ZB Commodore is the same at the back. Check out that wang.
The other thing to consider is that under the skin, it's not much different from the VF Commodore it replaced — a potent enough platform to begin with. For this year at least, it'll be powered by the same V8. And it'll be led by the same gun Red Bull Holden Racing Team squad.
Not only will they be quick; they'll be bloody hard to beat.
Nissan will go V6 ... or leave
Manufacturer talks all over the world are probably already in full swing behind closed doors, and among those brands discussing the future of Supercars and whether they want to be part of the party is Nissan.
Debuting with the Altima in 2013, the manufacturer have long struggled to put big results on the table. They've won a couple of races and been quite competitive through certain phases, and they also house the category's only female driver; Simona De Silvestro. But, it's hard to look at the campaign that they've had with Kelly Racing, as extensive as it's been, and think that it's been good value to the brand.
So as the Gen2 story heats up, the question is what Nissan will do. This year will be when we finally learn what's going to happen.
The Altima silhouette they utilize has been dead in Australia and New Zealand since the middle of last year, so decision one is what to replace it with. Another Altima is on the horizon, but it's a weak seller in this part of the world. Perhaps a GT-R could fill the void? Decision two is what to power it with, and with Nissan's direction towards EVs and smaller capacity engines, it would make much more sense to shift to a six-banger.
Ultimately, it's probably just as likely that they'll throw the towel in entirely. But I don't think anyone wants that; no less us at Driven, who are excited to see how Kiwi André Heimgartner goes on his return to the class.
Richie Stanaway will be in Tickford Racing's top two
No co-driver in last year's PIRTEK Enduro Cup attracted more comment and praise than Richie Stanaway. Combined with victory at the Wilson Security Sandown 500 and another strong drive at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, and it was no surprise when the former open-wheel and Aston Martin star popped up in a full-time position at Prodrive Racing — now known as Tickford Racing.
Stanaway's career path is unlike any other rookie's. He's already competed against (and beaten) the best in Europe, and we've already seen this racecraft in action. There will be no question that he'll be impressive, especially as the year goes on and he adapts to more Aussie circuits.
Tickford's other four drivers are an interesting bunch. Cameron Waters enters season three after two solid seasons. Chaz Mostert appears to have fully recovered from his monster Bathurst crash in 2015, having become a genuine championship threat last year in the midst of the Red Bull and Shell entries. Then there's Mark Winterbottom — the 2015 champ struggling for results in the following two seasons.
I expect Stanaway will slot behind Mostert and ahead of the rest in the results tab, with a few race wins chucked in for good measure.
Penske or Prodrive to swap manufacturer
Speaking of Tickford Racing, remember that they no longer have the big buck factory support that they used to enjoy from Ford. Yes, they now have Tickford on board, but whether that's enough to maintain a big four-car team aiming to take on the 'big boys' is another question entirely.
Likewise, Shell V-Power Racing are in a similar sort of boat, perhaps with even more reason to shift given that Tickford is still somewhat linked to the blue oval.
The FG-Xs that both teams race with are well out of date, and the clock is ticking on the hopes of getting Ford to sign the dotted line on moving to a two-door Ford Mustang platform as a replacement.
The big question is; who would want to join the series? Toyota, Mazda, Chrysler, Lexus, and Hyundai have all been asked plenty of times in the past, and are unlikely to change their minds in the current climate of SUVs and small cars.
The main one we're all crossing our fingers for is Kia. They've just launched the Stinger on both sides of the ditch, with media outlets latching onto the platform as a surrogate for the (now dead) stereotypical rear-wheel drive Aussie sports sedan. If Kia truly want to cash in on this, entering in Supercars isn't a bad idea.
Particularly with a gun, former championship-winning team like either of the above.
Scott McLaughlin will win the championship
The end of the 2017 championship has been played out over and over, and discussions of who-should-have-won-what still rage on social media today.
The thing to touch on is that the 2017 season — with its incredible amount of race wins, iconic Bathurst pole time, and aura of unflappable dominance — was Scott McLaughlin's first year with Penske. His first year getting to grips with the team, how they operate, and the cars they drive.
Yes, the ZB Commodore will be competitive (especially in the hands of Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen), but so too will be McLaughlin; a driver who should now know that he can do great things with the package around him.
Last year was a roller coaster and a half. But I think 2018's going to be even better.