New chapter in classic Ford versus Holden battle
WE TALK all the time about the history of the sport.
The heritage of Ford versus Holden.
The rivalries we've been fortunate enough to enjoy over a long period of time, right back to the days of Allan Moffat and Peter Brock.
What we have now is another classic Ford versus Holden battle.
With Roger Penske buying into Dick Johnson Racing, the acquisition of technical guru Ludo Lacroix from rival Triple Eight Engineering and a couple of good young drivers in Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard, Ford is back.
Line them up against the Red Bull Holdens in reigning champion Shane van Gisbergen and six-time title holder Jamie Whincup and it's a serious heavyweight rivalry.
Heading into the Watpac Townsville 400 this weekend, the two Falcons are only 10 points apart - Coulthard 1330, McLaughlin 1320 - with Whincup's Commodore 16 points adrift.
It's an extraordinarily tight season.
McLaughlin was destined to be a contender.
He's got a very similar style in the way he drives to Craig Lowndes.
As brave as they come, he turns to the corner early and keeps the momentum up.
His qualifying performances this year have been outstanding, with seven pole positions.
The next highest pole position placegetter is van Gisbergen with two.
Starting on the front row, and being able to keep yourself out of trouble, is something that's really important for Townsville with its layout.
It's a hybrid-style of circuit. One end is almost a traditional street circuit, the other end like a purpose- built race track - a little bit like Albert Park in Melbourne.
It's 2.86km, with 13 turns and a very hard place to make a really good clean path.
But someone who knows it well is Whincup.
He's the sleeper of this year's championship.
Extraordinarily, he hasn't had a win this year, and just one pole position, but he's still only 16 points away from Coulthard.
You don't win six championships and forget how to drive.
You're not going to go through the season without Whincup winning.
He's had eight victories in Townsville - five more than the next best.
When you've had that sort of form I think he's going to be pretty strong.
He's a big chance to break the drought.
As close as the series is, it could have been even closer.
Van Gisbergen having a did not finish in the first race in Darwin - his first in 34 drives - really hurt him.
It was a cruel blow, dropping him back from being right in contention to now 178 points away.
He will be very much mindful of that, and has to bounce back.
Van Gisbergen is always good on street circuits, so will be a huge threat in Townsville.
With four wins each by he and McLaughlin and three from Coulthard, the Kiwis have 11 from 12 races this year.
Don't rule out some progression from Pro Drive Racing Australia.
It lost its way a little bit in Darwin but Chaz Mostert, in particular, is a very fast young guy, and as the only other winner this year, is fifth in the championship.
Then there's Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom, and David Reynolds has been outstanding.
It shapes up as a cracking race.