Don’t rush to sprint tyres
AFTER two tremendous rounds of racing, everyone seems to be calling for more events this year to be run on the Dunlop sprint tyres. I have to agree that the racing has been brilliant. Even on circuits such as Winton, where it can be boring because there are limited places to pass, the softer and more grippy Dunlops provided plenty of passing opportunities.
It made for entertaining racing, not only for spectators but also for drivers.
But I don’t think the format for this year should be changed when we are halfway through the season.
We can definitely use it at other events to improve the racing and the passing opportunities, but it shouldn’t be used in the long-distance events because the tyre doesn’t have the structure for durability.
Rounds such as Townsville, Darwin and maybe the Gold Coast could certainly do with it. But not until next year.
Let’s sit down and think it through and work out which circuits could be improved by running on the sprint tyres and then make the decision at the start of the year so the teams can work out their strategies.
We all still have a lot of work to do to get a full understanding of this tyre.
It generates a lot more grip and we’re always looking for more turn in the car, but that means we have to adjust our car settings and balance.
We also have to get our heads around how it heats up and reacts to ambient temperatures.
At a cold track such as Winton, the tyre can actually act like glass rather than rubber until it heats up.
And if you charge too hard before it gets to the right temperature, you can rip grain-sized pieces off the tyre.
These are the sorts of things we need to sort out.
Anyway, we had a ball at Queensland Raceway and then again at Winton with these tyres.
We ran two totally different strategies last Saturday and Sunday and I’m happy to say they were correct both times.
I was concerned about the Saturday strategy of pitting late because of the lack of pace in the middle of the race, but it worked out well. My race engineer Jeromy Moore and the team made a good choice.
At the end we had huge closing speed and grip, so I was able to pass a stack of cars.
Sunday was a different format because it was a longer race with two pit stops instead of one.
Our last stop was forced by the safety car and we stopped straight away, which worked out well.
However, knowing we still had about 24 laps to go, I was worried about our car having consistent pace and longevity.
Full marks to James Courtney and Dick Johnson’s team. James drove a very sensible couple of races for the second consecutive round.
He’s matured a lot in the past year and he’s driving really well. He’s not making the mistakes he did last year.
Courtney’s not only leading races, but also showing he’s able to come through the pack like he did on Sunday when he started in sixth on the grid. He showed plenty of patience and good strategy.
I don’t think this is a matter of Ford gaining the ascendancy in the series, but simply that this team now has two years of development under their belt.
I know just how good that Triple 8-spec car is. It’s also a good combination of car, team and driver. It will be a hard combination to beat.
But in only two rounds the whole top 10 has changed dramatically.
From my point of view, I’ve come from eighth to fifth to third and am now only 108 points off my teammate, Jamie Whincup, and 222 o f f Courtney. With more than half a season to go that puts me within striking distance and gaining momentum.
It’s a far cry from how I was at this time last year when I was fading the other way.
Needless to say, Jamie is bitterly disappointed with the results of the past two rounds.
On Sunday he had a flat left-side tyre and got caught out in the gravel. It wasn’t the result he was hoping for.
The next two events, in Darwin and Townsville, will be crucial to the championship, knowing we have an eight-week mid-season break.
Every driver will want to go into the break with the momentum behind them.
Winton wonder: sprint tyres added to the excitement at Winton, but changes shouldn’t be made mid-season.