Alex Davison has admitted that making further improvements from where Irwin Racing ended the Hamilton 400 round of the V8 Supercar series will be tougher than moving up from where it began the start of the season, but hopes that the championship's new tyre rules provide a leveller that gives him a chance of challenging for the podium.
Davison sits eleventh in the standings heading to this weekend's Winton round, after claiming back-to-back top ten finishes on the Hamilton street circuit in New Zealand, but admits that, having made it into the leading group, moving up through it will be a harder task..
"As a team, we made great strides from the opening round in Adelaide to Hamilton but, now that we are around the top ten, it does get harder to jump those next few spots - especially at a circuit that all the Victorian teams know so well," he said of round three of the 2009 campaign.
"However, our working relationship as a group is improving and we will continue to stick to our plan of how we approach practice. Then, ideally, we can carry that through to a better performance in qualifying, and then further improve our race pace."
Winton is very familiar to Davison, but this will be his V8 Supercar debut at the circuit - a matter complicated somewhat by the V8 series' decision to introduce its new softer tyre option for all teams this weekend. The Dunlop SP Maxx 'sprint' is permitted to be used only once in either of the weekend's two races, adding a strategic element to a category already featuring mandatory pit-stops and a revised qualifying procedure.
"I have raced plenty of times in other categories at Winton and have tested a V8 Supercar there before, but this weekend will be my race debut in the category," Davison confirmed, "Overall, V8 Supercars have low grip compared to other categories, so providing a different tyre option will have a big effect on the racing. My experience in categories that offer other tyre compounds means I should have a very good feel for the difference that a softer tyre can make."
Davison's engineer at Irwin Racing, Wes McDougall, admits that the rule change to allow the 'sprint' tyre is possibly the 'most dramatic' seen in the V8 category in years but, like his driver, he is keen to see if the new factor can be made to work in the team's favour.
"Different tyres and tyre rules, a 100km race on Saturday and 200km on Sunday - there is plenty to think about, both in and out of the car," McDougall acknowledged.
"Being a Queensland-based team, Winton has been one of our weaker circuits, but these rule changes are, in effect, an equaliser, although we will have to be on our game to make the most of the new variables. Tyres are always critical, but even more so when you are given an option. However, we'll get the opportunity to run the soft tyre in practice and that will give us a good idea of its performance and other characteristics.
"For the Saturday race, the officials have mandated a fuel stop where you have to take on 50 litres of fuel, so that's another variable we have to work with, but the big question is whether it is better to use the softer tyre in the shorter or longer race?
"That will be determined after we try it on the Friday and then where we qualify for Saturday. The basic plan would be use the softer tyre when you are going to get the most benefit."