2023 Thrifty Newcastle 500, Event 1 of the Repco Supercars Championship, Newcastle Street Circuit, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. 11 Mar, 2023.

Team 18 drivers Scott Pye and Mark Winterbottom are looking forward to a new challenge for the Gen3 Supercars at the second event of the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship at the Beaurepaires Melbourne SuperSprint, a support category for the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park.

The team got off to a strong start to the season at Newcastle, emerging third in the Teams’ Championship and both drivers in the top ten of the Drivers’ Championship. 

The Supercars Championship will head from the slowest circuit on the calendar to the fastest in terms of average speed, where the new Gen3 Supercars will be put to the test around a fast-flowing circuit that was famously tough on tyre degradation in 2022.

Last year at Albert Park, Pye equalled his best finish of the season with a fourth in Race 7 and reset the Supercars race lap record in the final race of the weekend.

Pye, who scored his maiden Supercars race win at Albert Park in 2018, will race at the Grand Prix with a new naming rights partner onboard, which will be revealed by the team at 1pm AEDT on Wednesday.

“In the past we’ve seen really high tyre wear at Albert Park,” said Pye.

“I think the nature of the circuit being such a high-speed track and since being resurfaced we had issues with the soft tyre not lasting as long as we expected. So I mean, everyone’s going to be a lot more prepared for that this year. But, I would expect more of the same with the super soft tyre not lasting all that long. Then I think the cars themselves, this is an exciting place to take them to because we’ve all been excited to see what the cars are like to follow at high-speed with the reduced downforce this year. So hopefully we can see some close racing.

“We’re taking brand new cars to another circuit that’s kind of unfamiliar to us. The weather here in Melbourne at the moment is unpredictable, so I think we’re probably gonna get a bit of everything this weekend.

“The win in 2018 meant a lot obviously but to have been so long since that win as well, it’s something that drives me crazy and I’m craving that next win. Certainly it was a special day in crazy conditions and I’m sure we could see very similar conditions this weekend. So hopefully that works in my favour and I can get the job done again.

“Qualifying on Saturday in Newcastle was great. We had some issues with the car on Sunday and that’s why we didn’t qualify as well. So I think our pace in qualifying is still quite strong.

“I think this weekend, the trickiest part about qualifying is you only really get one go with how long the pit lane time is and how short the session times are, so you’ve got to put it on the line with one opportunity, and if you make that mistake, then you could be at the very back of the grid. If you nail it and you’ve got a quick car you be at the front. It’s just a high risk, high reward nature of qualifying, which I think is exciting.

“I’m very, very confident with our cars, it’s a circuit that I enjoy, so I look forward to having multiple qualifying sessions to really show what we can do.”

Winterbottom is a seven-time race winner at Albert Park, and is always excited by the opportunity to race in front of the world stage as a support act to Formula 1.

“I think this is a really good challenge to test what the car’s going to do because we’ve been talking about the cars having less aero and being so different,” said Winterbottom.

“When you go through tight street circuit tracks, it’s different, but when you get to a big high speed circuit, that’s all aero. I think we’re gonna see the biggest difference between the old car and the new one here at Albert Park.

“It should be an exciting weekend, we’ve got the mix of the super soft compound, the hard tyre compound. It could be wet, could be dry, we’re racing early and late, so there’s so many factors coming into this weekend. We just have to try and be consistent and do a good job every day.

“You need a quick car around Albert Park, there’s no substitute for a quick car here because it’s such a long lap that you can’t hide behind the fact if you’re struggling through the longer corners or down the straights.

“With two practice sessions, it’s quite tight. It’s back to back, so if you’re fast in practice two you’ll be good for qualy. If you’re not, it’s a very, very quick turnaround.

“Although it’s a big long track, it’s very tough to pass, so qualifying is very important, and that long run into Turn 1 is one of the most chaotic starts of the year, so get up the front, that’s got to be the goal.

“The Grand Prix a big event for all our commercial partners. It’s the one that they all go to, Charlie’s got a big corporate suite on the second last corner and we’re well aware of where it is. There’s a lot of support there, and living in Melbourne we get a lot of friends and family, sponsors and everyone.

“We always love racing there. It’s one of the best weekends of the year that we get to go to. It’s very hard to switch off and on. Normally a race weekend, you know, Friday, Saturday, Sunday it’s back to back. We’re here, on Friday. We don’t go out on track till 2:30pm, so with no running during the day we’re thrown straight into a race and we have to switch on straight away. It’s a very mentally demanding weekend but one we all want to do well at. 

“It’s a big event and we get exposed to different people who may not have come to Supercars races and we put on a show, and it’s actually watched around the world too. When I raced in Brazil, they all made comment about the Supercars at the Grand Prix. So, it’s actually followed all around the world. Even though we’re a support category, it’s shown all around the world.”

With only two 30-minute practice sessions leading into Qualifying, both drivers have referred to the importance to work on the optimum setup as early as possible with a short turnaround between sessions.

The Beaurepaires Melbourne SuperSprint kicks off on Thursday, with one of the most intense days of the year for teams and drivers alike, with event rides in the morning leading into two practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and the first race of the weekend.

Four races will be held across the weekend ranging from Race 3 at 19 laps, Race 4 at 15 laps, and Races 5 and 6 at 13 laps.

Each race will require one compulsory pit stop, with both the hard and super soft tyre compound to be used during each race. Without a refuelling component that was seen in Newcastle, this event will witness the first four-tyre pit stops at pace by the pit crew. 

Race 3 will be held on Thursday at 5:45pm, followed by Race 4 on Friday at 2:55pm. Qualifying for Races 5 and 6 will be held on Saturday morning from 9:05am, followed by Race 5 at 5:30pm following F1 qualifying.

The fourth and final race of the weekend, Race 6, will be held at 10:25am on Sunday morning in the lead-up to the 2023 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.

All the action from the Beaurepaires Melbourne SuperSprint can be viewed free-to-air on Channel 10 and live on Fox Sports and Kayo.