Team Vodafone will head into the unknown this weekend as Phillip Island takes the place of Sandown as the opening enduro event of the V8 Supercar Championship season.
The L&H 500 will be the first 500km race to be held on the Phillip Island GP circuit since 1977 and will provide teams with a different challenge to the traditional Phillip Island sprint format – with teams needing to be careful to get the most from both brakes and tyres at the challenging venue.
A unique qualifying format will see two 14-lap races held on Saturday with driver and co-driver to contest a race each. The points paid from each sprint will contribute to the car's grid position for the 500km event, forcing drivers to perform at pace without making any mistakes to ensure the best possible starting slot for the main event.
Craig Lowndes goes into the weekend as the man to beat in terms of pace around the Phillip Island circuit, holding both the qualifying and race lap record, but he admitted that it was a weekend that would require a totally different approach to normal.
“We're all heading into the unknown this weekend with the change of race format, as a team it will be critical to be on the ball all weekend – the mindset is quite different from the previous 500km enduro at Sandown,” he said. “We all love Phillip Island as a track, but who knows what the race will bring in relation to strategy. Brake wear will be critical, and tyre wear will dictate the speed of the race.
“In saying that, we haven't changed our approach – the goal is to finish well in Saturday's races and be flexible in terms of pit strategy as the race goes on.”
“Jamie and I were able to finalise our in-car positions at last Friday's test, which was a productive day despite the changes in weather conditions at Queensland Raceway.”
Lowndes will be joined in car #888 by Jamie Whincup, cementing the same driver pairing that won the 500km enduro in 2007, as well as Bathurst in 2006 and 2007.
Whincup said he was looking forward to racing at Phillip Island and was confident that the team would adapt to the longer format.
"We've always raced here but the 500km distance will change everything. Tyre life and brake effectiveness will be put to the test," he said. "The Saturday races are also new and makes it important for both drivers to have a handle on the car in a sprint format.
"I'm quietly confident that between us, myself and Craig can score a top grid position with a good performance in the single driver races and set ourselves up for the enduro."