Whincup looks 'better than he is'
THE new V8 Supercar season gets under way in Adelaide this weekend, and for me, it's a chance to regain my championship-winning form from 2010.
Finishing 10th in last year's debut season with Holden Racing Team was a big disappointment.
But I'm confident I can turn it around if I can get on top of these five drivers.
Jamie Whincup (Team Vodafone Holden). 2011 - 1st. Some say the Whincup/Team Vodafone combination is unbeatable, but not me. I beat them two years ago so I know they're beatable. I respect Whincup and his consistency, but his team makes him look better than he is.
Craig Lowndes (Team Vodafone Holden). 2011 - 2nd. A big threat. He had Whincup's measure at the end of last year so won't lack confidence. Those guys (Lowndes and Whincup) smile and say nice things for the cameras, but they desperately want to beat each other.
Garth Tander (Holden Racing Team). 2011 - 5th. Champion in 2007 and finishes top-five most seasons. I know we both have better cars than last year. He's a very determined and focused racer, and one of the best at pulling a fast qualifying lap out of the bag.
Lee Holdsworth (Stone Brothers Racing Ford). 2011 - 8th. Ford's big new signing, after switching from Gary Rogers' Holden team. Strong in pre-season testing and the SBR Falcons are speedy. Usually good on street circuits, and a "dark horse" for the championship.
Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing). 2011 - 3rd. As usual he's talking himself and FPR up as the "next big thing" in pre-season, but so far hasn't delivered a championship or a Bathurst win. Needs more consistency over a full season to challenge for the title.
Apart from these drivers, Shane Van Gisbergen (SBR Ford), Rick Kelly (Jack Daniel's Holden) and Jason Bright (BOC Holden) won races in 2011 and will challenge for podium, along with a couple of others.
As for the weekend's first race, I'm glad Adelaide has been restored as the opening round, after we started the season in Abu Dhabi the past two years.
Adelaide always pulls a big crowd (270,880 in 2011) and the atmosphere in the city and around the 3.2km track is fantastic.
We have two 250km races on Saturday and Sunday, the same format as in past years.
All the circuits from 2011 have been retained, while the venue for a new round, set for November 9-11, is yet to be announced.
Another adjustment for 2012 is the 500km endurance race before the Bathurst 1000 has been switched back to Sandown in Melbourne, after several years at Phillip Island.
Apart from Holdsworth's switch to Ford, there's been the usual round of musical chairs in the off-season. David Reynolds has moved from Kelly Racing to replace Paul Dumbrell in the Bottle-O Racing Falcon, while former champion Russell Ingall switches from Paul Morris Motorsports to Walkinshaw Racing. Fabian Coulthard moves from Walkinshaw Racing to Brad Jones Racing.
Dick Johnson Racing has expanded from two Falcons to a four-car team. The newcomers are Dean Fiore and Steve Owen, joining Steven Johnson and James Moffat.
An interesting newcomer to the championship is Frenchman Alexandre Premat, whose record includes racing Audis in the Le Mans 24-hour and German touring car championship (DTM). He replaces Holdsworth in the Fujitsu Commodore, alongside Michael Caruso.
Jonathon Webb's Tekno Autosports has changed from Ford to Holden, and recruited Michael Patrizi to increase from one car to two.
There are some big changes to the tyre regulations. In 2011 all cars raced exclusively on Dunlop's soft-compound "sprint" tyres in seven championship rounds, but this year most of these events will feature a mix of "sprint" and durable 'control' rubber.
The "control" tyres will continue to be used exclusively for endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst, and at Adelaide, Phillip Island, and Sydney.
These tyre changes won't favour or disadvantage anyone, but races with mixed rubber could produce more passing when drivers and teams are on different pit stop strategies.
Another rule adjustment is eight team members can work on each car during pit-stops, two more than in 2011.
Channel Seven's coverage kicks off on Friday and Saturday from 1.30pm, and Sunday from 1pm.
The V8 Supercars will also have three non-championship races at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park in Melbourne from March 15-18.
2012 V8 Supercar Calendar
1. Adelaide, SA (March 1-4)
2. Symmons Plains, Tas (March 30-April 1)
3. Hamilton, NZ (April 20-22)
4. Barbagallo, WA (May 4-6)
5. Phillip Island, Vic (May 18-20)
6. Hidden Valley, NT (June 15-17)
7. Townsville, Qld (July 6-8)
8. Queensland Raceway, Qld (August 3-5)
9. Winton, Vic (August 24-26)
10. Sandown 500, Vic (September 14-16)
11. Bathurst 1000, NSW (October 4-7)
12. Gold Coast 600, Qld (October 19-21)
13. Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi (November 2-4)
14. TBA (November 9-11)
15. Sydney, NSW (November 30-December 2)
1. Australian GP, Albert Park, Vic (March 15-18)
2012 V8 Supercar Entry List
1. Jamie Whincup (Team Vodafone Commodore)
2. Garth Tander (Holden Racing Team)
3. Tony D'Alberto (D'Alberto Racing Falcon)
4. Lee Holdsworth (Irwin Racing Falcon)
5. Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing)
6. Will Davison (Ford Performance Racing)
7. Todd Kelly (Jack Daniel's Racing Commodore)
8. Jason Bright (Team BOC Commodore)
9. Shane Van Gisbergen (SP Tools Falcon)
11. Karl Reindler (Fair Dinkum Sheds Commodore)
12. Dean Fiore (Jim Beam Racing Falcon)
14. Fabian Coulthard (Lockwood Racing Commodore)
15. Rick Kelly (Jack Daniel's Commodore)
17. Steven Johnson (Jim Beam Racing Falcon)
18. James Moffat (Team Norton Falcon)
19. Jonathon Webb (Tekno Autosports Commodore)
21. David Wall (Wilson Security Commodore)
22. James Courtney (Holden Racing Team)
30. Taz Douglas (Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Commodore)
33. Alexandre Premat (Fujitsu Commodore)
34. Michael Caruso (Fujitsu Commodore)
47. Tim Slade (Lucky 7 Racing Falcon)
49. Steve Owen (VIP Petfoods Falcon)
51. Greg Murphy (Pepsi Max Commodore)
55. David Reynolds (Bottle-O Racing Falcon)
66. Russell Ingall (Supercheap Auto Commodore)
91. Michael Patrizi (Tekno Autosports Commodore)
888. Craig Lowndes (Team Vodafone Commodore)