There is always plenty on the line when Australia’s premier motorsport category, the Supercars, rolls into Ipswich but this year’s event will be just a tad more special.
It is the last visit to the track – known in racing circles as the ‘paperclip’ – for Supercars veteran Craig Lowndes, who recently announced this would be his last season as a full-time driver.
Lowndes is the most successful driver at Queensland Raceway with 12 race wins, his last coming in 2016.
The next most successful driver is Garth Tander with five wins. In announcing his retirement earlier this month, Lowndes thanked fans for their support.
“I’ve always said the fans are the backbone of our great sport and the reason why I’ve always put a helmet on every race weekend so to them thank you very much,” he said.
Plenty of fans will be hoping to see Lowndes add to his tally of wins but to do that he will need to outrace a field of drivers with their own ambitions of a successful weekend, among them Cool Drive racer Tim Blanchard.
Blanchard heads to Ipswich after a challenging start to 2018 which began with a crash in round one followed by a string of back-of-the-grid results.
He told Ipswich First he was aiming for a top-10 finish after a few encouraging results.
“We definitely had a shocker at (the last round in) Townsville but in the three leading up to that in Perth, Winton and Darwin we were heading in the right direction,” he said.
“We had a good car at Ipswich last year so we should have a good base to work from and if we qualify well I’m hoping we can get into the top 10.”
To walk away happy at the end of the weekend, Blanchard knows the team will need to be slick on and off the track.
“In terms of layout it’s one of the more simpler tracks we go to but that means the margin for error is very small,” he said.
“It’s one of the closest events of the year in terms of racing, often there’s only six or seven tenths separating the entire field in qualifying. “If you’re off the pace by a tenth or two you can end up down the back of the grid.
We need to have a mistake free weekend, if we have a slow pitstop, bad start or lapse in concentration it can have pretty significant consequences.”
The City of Ipswich holds a special place in Blanchard’s memories.
The Queensland Raceway circuit.
Retiring Supercars icon Craig Lowndes.
“I’ve been coming to Ipswich since I was 12 and I’m quite fond of it because it’s where I won my first Australian karting title in 2003 as a 15 year old,” he said.
“To get to the Supercars track you have to go past the karting track which brings back memories; I always drive past and think back to the good old days.”
The 2018 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship arrives in Ipswich with plenty up for grabs.
The championship is still very much in play with Shell V-Power Racing Team driver Scott McLaughlin out in front on 2033 points.
In pursuit are Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver Shane Van Gisbergen on 1902 and Erebus Penrite Racing’s David Reynolds on 1646.
The track is the testing circuit for the front-runner Red Bull and Shell V-Power teams, so both will be expecting to perform well.
This year’s SuperSprint includes two races – a 39-lap event on Saturday and a 65-lap battle on Sunday. Practice sessions kick off on Friday.
There is also plenty of family-friendly action planned off track with a new LEGO Play Zone featuring products from LEGO Speed Champions added to the mix.
The Royal Australian Air Force will conduct a flypast and aerial display in support of the event about 1.20pm on Sunday.
The ever popular car club displays, helicopter rides, merchandise alley and support race categories are also planned.
Get in the know before you go with these Queensland Raceway fast facts by Supercars
1. This year marks the 22nd visit by the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship to Queensland Raceway since the first back in 1999.
2. The polesitter has won just two of the last 12 Supercars races at Queensland Raceway.
3. The lowest grid position for a Supercars race winner at Queensland Raceway is ninth. Mark Skaife started from that position to win Race 2 (a reverse-grid race) for the Holden Racing Team in 2006.
4. Mark Winterbottom will make his 205th Supercars Championship round start when he lines up in Ipswich. He moves past Dick Johnson for 12th on the all-time championship round starts list.
5. The closest race-winning margin in Supercars at Queensland Raceway is 0.2423 seconds from Race 1 in 2008 when James Courtney led home Winterbottom to win his very first Supercars Championship race for Stone Brothers Racing.