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SANDOWN: THE WINNING EDGE?

Are Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell the favourites to win the Sandown 500? - Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Are Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell the favourites to win the Sandown 500? – Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Who is the favourite for the Sandown 500? AA’s Phil Branagan previews the big race

This weekend’s Wilson Security Sandown 500 promises to kick off the Supercars endurance season in fine form, but picking a winner in the 161-lap race looks to be a big challenge.

So close has been the competition between the leading teams this year that any of the two leading teams’ four cars could win – and up to half a dozen could challenge them.

While Scott McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup lead the points, their own teammates are capable of having a big say who takes the points away from the 3.1km Melbourne circuit.

Whincup and Paul Dumbrell look to be the favourites for the race. Not necessarily because Whincup is superior to the opposition but because of the form that he carries into the weekend, and the level of experience that Dumbrell has in Supercars, particularly at Sandown.

‘PD’ has won there in his own right in the past and he was comfortably leading last year’s race, until an error with his seatbelt prompted a drive-through penalty that dropped Whincup down the order. If not for that, it is likely the duo would have won.

So small are the differences between the teams and drivers that the edge could be telling – particularly since only nine of the 26 entries have the same driver lineup as they did a year ago.

Could Alex Premat's lack of experience with Penske cause issues for Scott McLaughlin? - Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Could Alex Premat’s lack of experience with Penske cause issues for Scott McLaughlin? – Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

As dominant as McLaughlin has been in Qualifying, co-driver Alex Premat has not raced a DJR Team Penske Ford, and has not started a race in one.

But the same can be said about the other Red Bull HRT car. Shane van Gisbergen is starting to look like the man who won the 2016 title again, but co-driver Matt Campbell, who impressed in his Supercars debut with Nissan a year ago, has yet to race a Triple 8 Holden. His form in testing suggests that he will not have much trouble adapting, and he comes to Melbourne straight from a win in the Porsche Supercup at Monza.

Back on the Shell V-Power side of the divide, Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto look well settled, even if they are of differing heights. Both have plenty of experience at the track, D’Alberto having raced for the team as co-driver to Scott Pye a year ago.

Garth Tander won last years Sandown 500 - Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Garth Tander won last years Sandown 500 – Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Which brings us to last year’s winner. Garth Tander looked like the GT of old at Sandown, seizing the lead and never looking like giving it up. That was the last win for the ‘old’ Holden Racing Team and Tander will be looking to repeat, but now with his new GRM co-driver James Golding. The youngster will be looking to put his 2016 nightmare behind him, and carries a lot of expectations into the race.

In the Prodrive camp the lead entries all look to have a winning chance. Chaz Mostert/Steve Owen were the best of the team’s cars last year and stay together for the enduros, as do Mark Winterbottom and Dean Canto. Many eyes will be on the Monster Energy car of Cam Waters, who has run so strongly in recent rounds and who has Richie Stanaway on board this year. The Kiwi dazzled on his debut last year and many will be watching, with expectations that he may well be a Main Series driver in 2018.

Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards are always a strong combination - Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards are always a strong combination – Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Craig Lowndes/Steven Richards never start an endurance race without expecting to do well, but Lowndes currently sits seventh in the points, and his recent form suggests that there may need to be a turnaround to contend at Sandown. So does Will Davison in 16th, but he appears to be over his Symmons Plains pains and, even if co-driver Jonathan Webb was the last driver named for the race, the duo finished an excellent third a year ago.

TIMETABLE

Saturday

Sunday

Wet conditions in practice made it difficult to get a weekend form guide - Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

Wet conditions in practice made it difficult to get a weekend form guide – Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

ENTRIES 2017 WILSON SECURITY SANDOWN 500

02 Scott Pye/Warren Luff HSV Racing Commodore

3 Aaren Russell/Taz Douglas LD Motorsport Commodore

4 Tim Blanchard/Todd Hazelwood CoolDrive BJR Commodore

5 Mark Winterbottom/Dean Canto Bottle-O Prodrive Falcon

6 Cam Waters/Richie Stanaway Monster Energy Prodrive Falcon

7 Todd Kelly/Jack Le Brocq Carsales Nissan Motorport Altima

9 David Reynolds/Luke Youlden Erebus Motorsport Commodore

12 Fabian Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto Shell V-Power DJR Team Penske Falcon

14 Tim Slade/Ash Walsh Freightliner BJR Commodore

15 Rick Kelly/David Wall Sengled Nissan Motorport Altima

17 Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat Shell V-Power DJR Team Penske Falcon

18 Lee Holdsworth/Karl Reindler Preston Hire CSR Commodore

19 Will Davison/Jonathan Webb Tekno Autosports Commodore

22 James Courtney/Jack Perkins HSV Racing Commodore

23 Michael Caruso/Dean Fiore Calsonic Nissan Motorport Altima

33 Garth Tander/James Golding Valvoline GRM Commodore

34 James Moffat/Richard Muscat Valvoline GRM Commodore

55 Chaz Mostert/Steve Owen SuperCheap Autos Prodrive Falcon

56 Jason Bright/Garry Jacobson Mega Prodrive Falcon

62 Alex Rullo/Alex Davison LD Motorsport Commodore

75 Nick Percat/Macauley Jones Mongrel Boots BJR Commodore

78 Simona De Silvestro/David Russell Harvey Norman Nissan Motorport Altima

88 Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell Red Bull HRT Commodore

97 Shane van Gisbergen/Matt Campbell Red Bull HRT Commodore

99 Dale Wood/Chris Pither Erebus Motorsport Commodore

888 Craig Lowndes/Steven Richards TeamVortex Commodore

For updates throughout the Sandown 500, make sure you follow us on social media FacebookTwitter, Instagram. We’ll also have a full in depth analysis of all the weekends action in the next issue of Auto Action Magazine, on sale Thursday.