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Dick Johnson has branded the revamped Bathurst 1000 “a complete unknown” as drivers grapple with soft compound tyres as part of the relatively untested Gen3 era.
In the past, only the hardest available compounds had been used at the Mount Panorama circuit, because of the demanding load on tyres.
But the significantly lighter Gen3 cars, in comparison with their predecessors, means the load on the Dunlop rubber has been reduced, and the trend towards softer tyres this season will continue in Sunday’s showpiece Supercars championship event.
It could make for a wildly unpredictable afternoon as the Great Race celebrates its 60th anniversary.
“The soft tyres really, they’re a bit of an unknown at this point in time because nobody’s done enough laps on them,” said Johnson, one of the sport’s greatest competitors who now owns Dick Johnson Racing.
“The big thing is here, each driver’s got to do a minimum of 54 laps, and now the Gen3 car has a larger fuel tank – it can do around 30 laps on a tank of fuel. Before, it always just ran a little bit short for the co-drivers to be able to get two stints in, get through the whole thing and get their required amount of laps done.
Brodie Kostecki drives the Erebus Motorsport Chevrolet Camaro in practice on Friday.Credit: Getty
“But now with 30 laps, they’ll be able to, and I think you’ll find a lot of the main drivers will start the race because of the way that it’s structured. And the co-drivers will get in on the second stint, and do one stint and then probably another stint a little bit later on, depending on what happens with safety cars and things like that. So it really is a complete unknown, the whole thing.”
The combination of the low-downforce Gen3s with the better grip of the soft tyres has forced drivers to relearn elements of their craft, which they did in practice and qualifying sessions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“It was interesting going across the top and over McPhillamy,” championship leader Brodie Kostecki said on Thursday. “Just not having the aero to hold the cars down over the rises. It was probably a bit different to what I thought it would be.
“I pre-empted a lot of it, and the team’s done an awesome job with the set-up of the car so far.”
Dick Johnson predicts the unpredictable in Sunday’s showpiece Bathurst 1000.
The Gen3 prototypes trialled running soft tyres during demonstration runs at last year’s Bathurst 1000, but wet conditions spoiled the chance to collect sufficient data.
“The Gen3 car has a lot – and I mean a lot – less downforce,” Johnson said. “Less than half the downforce the previous car had. And that in itself puts the car in a situation where the car would’ve been almost impossible to drive with the hard tyre because you can’t get enough heat in them, so you don’t get any grip.
“But the softer tyre with the grip, it allows them now to be able to sort of get some feel back. And it’s for safety, really. But look, anything can happen in this race – we’ve seen that in the past. And certainly now, when every single team’s in a situation where they’ve got no data from previous events.
“So it’s going to be making decisions on the run, which I think is a good thing.”
Jamie Whincup driving in Bathurst on Saturday.Credit: Getty
Kostecki has surged into favouritism, claiming six wins this season to be in reach of a maiden championship with two rounds to follow Sunday’s race. The 25-year-old finished third in 2021 and fourth last year, but Kostecki and co-driver David Russell appear primed to win at Bathurst for the first time.
Kostecki secured pole with the biggest winning margin in a top-10 shootout for 20 years. He will start on the front row with Red Bull Ampol’s Broc Feeney, who was second-quickest but ultimately not close to his fellow Chevrolet Camaro driver.
“The car was awesome across the top,” Kostecki said. “I just threw it down the hill and I wasn’t actually sure if I was going to come out the other side.”
Brodie Kostecki on track for pole at the Bathurst 1000 yesterday.Credit: Getty
Ford rival Anton De Pasquale said Kostecki was the one to beat.
“Maybe, I don’t know,” the Shell V-Power ace replied when asked if Kostecki could be caught.
“Unless a miracle happens to our thing [car] overnight, not by us, but anything can happen come Sunday – it’s a long race. The cars have got to survive first and get through it, no damage and everything. But we’ll be trying our best.”
Ford teams have bemoaned Supercars’ decision not to allow technical changes to Mustangs ahead of the Bathurst 1000. BlueOval bosses have claimed they are at a “continued disadvantage” compared to Camaro drivers after proposed changes to their cars were rejected.
“There’s been a pretty consistent big gap to the fastest of some of the other brands,” De Pasquale said. “The gap’s been pretty big, pretty consistent. Obviously, they’re doing an amazing job, but I think we maximised our package [in qualifying].
“Everyone knows what the situation is, but we can’t change it, so we just get on with it. We’ll run our race and hopefully we end up with a trophy.”
Championship leader Brodie
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