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Calder hosts last of sprints

V8 stars: Paul Radisich and Mark Skaife will resume battle this weekend.

Melbourne's Calder Park is set to host the last V8Supercar sprint of the season

Ford logo11 Jul 2001

A DEBATE over the ideal race format for V8Supercars has replaced parity as the hot topic in pitlane as the championship reaches its halfway point at Melbourne's Calder Park this weekend.

Last time the Shell Championship Series made its way to the Victorian circuit was in August of 2000 - Holdens were dominating and parity was the word on everyone's lips.

This weekend the V8 Supercar circus returns at the season's halfway point but with the Holden versus Ford battle locked at three round wins apiece, parity has slipped from the agenda to be replaced by race format.

All the Ford teams ran a new front undertray at the 2000 Calder round, designed to give it more balance. That change, along with a new look calendar with a wider variety of race formats, has produced a more even playing field in a category built on the premise of even competition.

A Ford round win this weekend would be its fourth on the trot and see the Blue Oval's 2001 victory tally eclipse its aggregate for the past three seasons.

The drama of the weekend will be played out in the once traditional format of 3 x 20 minute sprint races.

Following last month's round in Perth, this is the second and last of these sprint race meetings on this year's 13-event program, and with the evolution towards longer racing with pitstops, they may be a dying breed.

Driver opinions on what is their preferred race format vary, with some all in favour of the wave of change sweeping over the category, and others unabashed fans of the straight-out sprint.

Defending champion and current points leader Mark Skaife has had over 100 starts in the Shell Series, winning a fair share of them.

"In a sprint race you have to be on it from the word go to make sure that firstly, you qualify in the top 10, and then get the best possible run in the Shoot Out," Skaife said.

"The front row is preferable and pole is ideal, but you can't afford to be outside the top half dozen.

"I particularly like the 20-minute sprint format as it's an out-and-out race all the way, and that's what racing's all about."Having recorded his only Shell Series round wins in the sprint races, it is no surprise that Shell Helix Racing's Paul Radisich is another in favour of these formats.

"The sprint races take out the variables which could trip you up," said the Rat.

"It's all up to me and from a driver's point of view, that is preferable. On the other hand, if you have a hiccup in qualifying in a sprint race, that can really hurt you, but the longer formats give you more of a chance to make up ground.

"I like the good mix of formats, but I have to lean towards the sprints."Squarely on the other side of this opinion is Skaife's new HRT teammate, Jason Bright.

"Thank God this weekend at Calder is the last of the sprint races," he said.

"Why do we have the shortest races of any category in the world? I didn't see much exciting passing in Perth and there weren't any inspiring tactics." The longer formats with forced pitstops bring in the team element and a new set of racing skills such as managing tyre wear and being quick on cold rubber.

"I much prefer sinking my teeth in to the longer races but I think they definitely have to change the rule where we can't pit under yellow flags," said Bright.

"That rule makes for boring strategies and can severely punish those who are daring and chasing the win. We have seen that with FTR at Eastern Creek and Lowndes at Canberra."Radisich's teammate Steven Johnson is also in conflict with the opinions of his driving partner.

"I prefer the longer races, always have done. They just suit me better," Johnson said.

"The team gets involved and you have the chance to settle in to a rhythm and make up ground and implement strategies to move forward."The last word goes to the most successful driver in the current ranks, triple Shell Series champion Craig Lowndes.

"I certainly am in favour of the longer formats. It brings in some of the best elements of motor racing when you can see a slick team pitstop and smart strategy help guys peg back their faster rivals and make a more exciting race of it," he said.

"Success in the sprints means you have to have a great qualifying run and a perfect start. Even then it is only half the job done. By the look of this year's calendar compared to the last couple, the sprint races are on their way out anyway and I am in favour of that evolution."Whatever their opinions, it is a sprint format they must tackle at Calder this weekend. The Friday of the meeting will see pre-qualifying, with 12 entrants scheduled to compete for the last seven spots on the 32-car capacity grid.

The schedule for round 7 is:Saturday
Provisional qualifying 12.00-12.55pm
Top Ten Shootout 1.05pm-1.35pmSunday
Race 1 (20 laps) 11.30-11.50am
Race 2 (20 laps) 1.30-1.50pm
Race 3 (20 laps) 3.30-3.50pmDRIVERS' CHAMPIONSHIP
1 Skaife (HRT) 1612 points
2 Bright (HRT) 1503
3 Ingall (Castrol Holden) 1268
4 Johnson (Shell Ford) 1258
5 Murphy (K-Mart Holden) 1121
6 Ambrose (Pirtek Ford) 1068
7 Richards (Tickford Ford) 1063
8 Kelly (K-Mart Holden) 1032
9 Lowndes (Gibson Ford) 1023
10 Seton (Tickford Ford) 994

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