With a 26-car V8 Supercars field likely to be covered by less than a second in qualifying at Symmons Plains this weekend, star rookie and Motorsport.com columnist Cam Waters knows he’ll have to bring his A-Game.
We’re off to Symmons Plains in Tasmania this weekend for the second points-paying round of the season, and for me it is effectively a new circuit.
I have raced there before, twice actually, in Formula Ford. It was 2010 and 2011, and I actually won the championship in Tassie the second time around.. I had wrapped it up on the Gold Coast in terms of points, but Tassie was the last round so that’s where I was officially given the title.
I went pretty well there in Formula Ford – but obviously it will be a lot different going there in a V8 Supercar for the first time. I at least know what direction the circuit runs, and which way the corners go, but given the substantial differences between an open-wheeler and a V8 Supercar, there is still a lot to learn.
For example, I need to learn when to brake, how to attack the track, and where the time can be made and be lost.
Even though I’ve never driven a V8 at Symmons Plains, it doesn’t really change my approach to the weekend too much. I tend to go into each and every round the same.
The differences will be subtle, like putting a little bit more emphasis on learning the lines, the brake markers, basic things like that – so that I can be on the pace a little bit quicker when practice starts.
Lifting your game
Getting on the pace will be important, because there’s no margin for error at Symmons Plains.
Qualifying will be more important than it has been anywhere else. It’s such a short circuit, and that means the margins are tight. I think last year it was something like six tenths of a second across the Top 20 cars.
So if you find or lose a tenth, you can move a long way up or down the grid.
If we can set the car up to qualify well, find a decent slipstream, and qualify somewhere up the front it’s all going to make it a lot easier in the races.
Having the field so tightly condensed, not just in Tasmania but in a general sense, is one of the hardest challenges coming into the V8 Supercars main game. In the Dunlop Series, if I missed my ultimate best time in qualifying by a tenth, I could still be on pole, or at worst, second.
But in the main game, a tenth here or there might be five or 10 positions – especially somewhere like Symmons Plains.
You’ve got to pick up that intensity when you make that step up to the top series. There is no margin for error but you also need to get everything out of it every single time.
Focus on qualifying
It’s really difficult to put expectations on the weekend, because realistically at this stage I don’t know how it’s going to pan out for me.
I’m coming off the back of a pretty good weekend at the Australian Grand Prix. Albert Park is a pretty technical track, and it was new to me as well, and I felt like I picked it up reasonably quickly.
Going into Tasmania, I’ll aim to do the same as I did at the AGP and look to be inside the Top 10. If I’m doing that, I’ll be happy.
But, as I said, my focus will be on qualifying well. If I can qualify well, then I can run in the front half of the field.
At the last few events my race pace has been really good, but my one-lap pace, and getting everything out of it, hasn’t quite been there.
If I can tune up that qualifying performance, I’ll be able to run a bit further forward.