The Toll Holden Racing Team may enter the 2010 V8 Supercar Championship Series as the reigning teams' champions, but when the famous red Commodores take to the track in Abu Dhabi this weekend, the quest for the team's first drivers' championship in eight years begins in earnest.
While the impressive Yas Marina Circuit may present new challenges to all drivers, engineers and teams, the Toll HRT have been busy analysing footage shot by driver Will Davison during a recent promotional trip to the Middle East. Both Davison, who finished runner-up in the championship last year as well as claiming his first Barry Sheene Medal, and team-mate Garth Tander think the new 4.5-kilometre variation of the Grand Prix circuit will be a winner.
“The Yas Marina Circuit is spectacular and our V8 Supercars will look amazing under lights,” said a beaming Davison, “The circuit is quite challenging, flowing in sections, tight in parts. The flowing first sector heads into a really slow corkscrew section, which is quite steep on the elevation drop, before leading into some big straights. It has a bit of everything, including a couple of good chicanes. The racing will be full-on, as good as anywhere, with a lot of potential for side-by-side racing for long periods of laps – it's going to be great racing.”
Like the rest of the field, 2007 V8 Supercar champion Tander is used to starting the season with the traditional season-opener at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide. However, with back-to-back 'flyaway' races at Abu Dhabi and in Bahrain, the beginning of 2010 has a very different feel to it.
“It is a very different way to start the year,” Tander admits, “For the last ten years, we've traditionally started the year at the Clipsal 500, so to be starting the championship overseas at a brand new circuit - and possibly the best venue in the world for motorsport - it's exciting.
“Will's visited the circuit on a promotional trip and he recorded some vision for us, which we've looked at. He's used his visit as a bit of an advantage for himself – it's a competition between everyone and I respect that as you have to use any advantage you can - but I suspect that it will only last two or three laps.”
Tander finished third in last year's championship, but victories in the Phillip Island and Bathurst endurance races were not enough to overcome a slow start to the season. He knows it is vital to make an early statement in Abu Dhabi and springboard into the chase for the championship.
“It's critical we come back from these two fly-away races in the top bunch,” he continued, "We don't need to be leading, but you have to be in touch, and that's our plan.
“Even at this stage of the year, we are so much further down the road than we were last year – we had a few issues with the car and I only did around 70 laps in pre-season testing. There were regulation changes that we didn't get the chance to get on top of which then hampered us well into the year. On top of that, we had a steering failure in the first race at Clipsal, so we were well behind the eight ball from the start. We fought back all the way through the year, but you can't give guys like Will, Jamie Whincup and others a head start.