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HomeNewsAll the hot Supercars topics simmering at Taupō

All the hot Supercars topics simmering at Taupō

AS a race weekend filled with unknowns awaits, there’s plenty to look forward to at the inaugural ITM Taupo Super400.

V8 Sleuth explores below…

Kostecki.

All eyes are on the 2023 champion as he makes a shock return.

Few expected Brodie Kostecki and Erebus Motorsport to reunite, but here we are.

Will it really be a big happy family? Will Kostecki pick up where he left off, as the king of Gen3? Will he delve into what’s gone on the past few months?

There are so many questions here, and perhaps some answers are just around the corner.

Will Ford get off the mark?

The Penrite Mustangs of Matt Payne and Richie Stanaway. Pic: Ross Gibb

For one reason or another, the 2024 manufacturer scoreline reads six-nil in favour of Chevrolet.

There’s undoubtedly been missed opportunities for Ford, whose Gen3 Mustang is far more competitive than it was 12 months ago following off-season wind tunnel aero testing and ongoing improvements to its Coyote engine package.

MORE: Waters calls for end to Ford friendly fire

The hype around Kostecki’s return test allowed Ford to fly under the radar that very same day at Winton as it continued working on its power unit using Thomas Randle’s Castrol Mustang.

There are plenty of ultra-hungry Blue Oval drivers champing at the bit to win too, not least Matt Payne, Cam Waters and Chaz Mostert after all being in the hunt at Albert Park. And then there’s Will Davison, who put Ford on top in the opening leg of the 2022 Pukekohe swansong.

Brown or Feeney: Who will be first to blink?

When held at Pukekohe in the back end of the season, the annual New Zealand round often proved a key part of any given title fight.

In 2015, there was the tyre blowout which deflated Craig Lowndes’ efforts to reel in Mark Winterbottom.

The following year, a crucial Jamie Whincup error gave Shane van Gisbergen all the breathing room he needed to surge towards his maiden crown.

And in 2017, Fabian Coulthard wound up upside down in a dramatic moment that derailed his championship dream.

Of course, Taupō is only Round 3 of 12 in the 2024 season but it’s been a two-horse race in the early stages between Triple Eight teammates Will Brown and Broc Feeney.

Neither driver has missed a beat thus far, but might some traditional NZ mayhem change that?

Who will step up as the homeland hero?

Kiwi quintet Ryan Wood, Jaxon Evans, Andre Heimgartner, Richie Stanaway and Matt Payne at Taupō Motorsport Park. Pic: Supplied/Mark Horsburgh

There’s no Shane van Gisbergen or Scott McLaughlin, but there are five Kiwis on the grid: Richie Stanaway, Matt Payne, Andre Heimgartner, Jaxon Evans and Ryan Wood.

SVG and Heimgartner gave the home fans plenty to cheer about in 2022, and there’ll be plenty of support for the current contingent to fly the Kiwi flag.

The fact no one has raced a Supercar before at Taupō should help comeback king Stanaway and rookies Evans and Wood, given for once they won’t be playing catch-up.

It’s a point Stanaway has specifically touched on in the lead-up: “No one’s raced at Taupō before, so I’m looking forward to not being a year behind everyone else, obviously coming back full-time.

“I’m looking forward to that clean slate for everyone.”

Has Brad Jones Racing turned the corner?

After a circumspect Bathurst 500, Albert Park was pretty close to rock bottom for Brad Jones Racing as braking issues proved crippling.

Across four races on the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix undercard, none of its Camaro quartet recorded a better result than 14th.

It sure made Heimgartner’s 2022 Pukekohe heroics and mid-2023 purple patch feel like a lifetime ago.

But with the crux of the problems being identified, there has been four weeks between rounds for BJR to make progress – a process helped by Jaxon Evans’ recent rookie test.

Can Percat and MSR keep it up?

Pic: Ross Gibb

This has been one of the feel-good stories of 2024: resurgent veteran Nick Percat and ever-improving underdogs Matt Stone Racing shining together.

Percat has been a happy camper from the moment he turned his first laps in an MSR Camaro earlier this year, and his drive to outduel Broc Feeney and Will Brown for the Sunday victory at Albert Park was superb.

Showing consistent front-running pace, Percat is fourth in the championship and motivated to keep the fairytale formline rolling.

Wildcard factors

Tyres, strategy and wet weather: there’ll be plenty to keep an eye on during the pair of 200km races across the weekend.

It’s an abrasive surface at Taupō, with high degradation anticipated to aid overtaking.

If rain arrives on Saturday as expected, that could make for quite the challenge – not only for drivers still learning the circuit, but for Dunlop’s soft wet tyre.

And, in a relatively late but certainly popular decision, gone is the minimum fuel drop… which has the potential to open up strategic avenues in the races.

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