Daniel Ricciardo is “curious” – rather than apprehensive – to see how his Renault handles itself around the Monaco circuit after growing accustomed to having such a receptive Red Bull in the principality.
The Australian has traditionally been one of the favourites going into the Monaco weekend, famously winning there last year after, most infamously, being robbed of his 2016 victory after an atrocious pitstop while leading.
He also finished third twice – making it four podium finishes in total – as well as two pole positions, but he will have to get used to battling further back again this year.
However, while Ricciardo accepts it will be far more difficult with Renault, he believes Monaco is a driver’s track, where the man in the cockpit can make far more of a difference than usual.
“I’m actually really curious to go to Monaco, I’m curious to see how it all feels,” he said. “I’m excited to go back there because I’ve always loved it.
“I think of Kubica putting it on P2 a few years ago, Maldonado, he was always a bit of a Monaco beast at getting the car at the time a bit further up.
“I’m definitely optimistic that if I can drive the track the way I want to drive it then I can get the car further up than maybe it might be on a normal track. Whether further up means the top six or top five, we’ll see. I’m excited.”
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where both Renaults failed to finish, is seen as a small indicator of how cars will perform in Monaco, but Ricciardo insists it is all about confidence this weekend.
“To be honest, not really,” he added when asked about Baku’s influence.
“I think we run quite low downforce and even a bit stiffer around Baku. Monaco is quite unique, but I think the biggest thing is confidence.
“On Thursday, all I’ll want to do is get out of myself to be confident with the car and have the confidence to tackle the kerbs and brake where I want to brake. I think, if I can get that, then I’ll be able to do something.”
Back then, McLaughlin was just three years old and could only harbour dreams of racing success. Now, he’s living those dreams to the fullest, and a second drivers’ title is all but a certainty with the New Zealander building a massive 573-point lead.
Lowndes achieved the mark as a 22-year-old rookie with the Holden Racing Team in 1996, and went on to take 107 career victories alongside three drivers’ titles and seven Bathurst wins.
Sunday’s Race 22 win at The Bend Motorsport Park marked McLaughlin’s 41st career victory, opening a door into where the 26-year-old sits in ATCC/Supercars history.
McLaughlin is now sixth all time on the race winners’ list. Only Jamie Whincup (114), Lowndes, Mark Skaife (90), Garth Tander (54) and Peter Brock (48) have won more races.
Think of names like Glenn Seton, Mark Winterbottom, Allan Moffat and John Bowe. McLaughlin is ahead of all of them, and he’s continuing to rise up the list.
Master qualifier McLaughlin is already second all-time on the pole winners’ list with 60, behind just Whincup (80). Winterbottom (36) and Shane van Gisbergen (18) are the closest active drivers in the ballpark.
This is all before McLaughlin’s 100th round start, which fittingly comes at his home event at the Auckland SuperSprint across September 13-15.
Joining Lowndes is “awesome”, but usurping him on home soil would be even sweeter in such a competitive era.
“You never think that you can probably, in this day and age, win 16,” McLaughlin said.
“I’m so proud of the team to give me a car I can be able to do it.
“I’ve been saying the whole time, it was a privilege to drive this.
“Trying to stay humble, and drive the thing as fast as I can and thankfully it provides some results from time to time.
“Very lucky and hopefully [with] my 100th round in New Zealand coming up, maybe we get a win there and get maybe pass him [Lowndes]. We’ll see.”
The fast and ferocious Pukekohe Park Raceway holds special memories for McLaughlin, who as a teenager in 2013, became the youngest ever driver to win an ATCC/Supercars race.
It was a special moment for the then Garry Rogers Motorsport young gun, who shared the podium with Lowndes on that very special day.
Career win No. 1 was tough as the then 19-year-old held off a fast-finishing pack which included Jason Bright, Lowndes, van Gisbergen, current DJRTP teammate Fabian Coulthard and Will Davison.
Sandown Raceway is expected to remain on the calendar and host a SuperSprint event, likely in November, despite losing the 500km race for 2020.
FOX Sports reporter Chris Stubbs revealed the expected changes across the OTR SuperSprint weekend, and the biggest news regards Phillip Island and Queensland Raceway, with both venues set to be left off the 2020 calendar.
Phillip Island hosted an event in April earlier this year, while the Ipswich event has typically occupied a slot in late August.
It also means Winton will remain on the calendar, likely in its existing May slot.
It’s also believed the Auckland SuperSprint, which was moved to the Sandown 500 slot in mid-September this season, will be held across the Anzac Day weekend in 2020.
The popular New Zealand track last hosted an event across the Anzac Day weekend in 2014.
The Perth SuperNight, which debuted this season, will be accompanied by a return to night racing at Sydney Motorsport Park.
The western Sydney venue hosted a single 300km race under lights in 2018, but was left off the calendar this season. However, it is expected to make a return in 2020 under a two-race format.
The SuperSprint format is also set to be tweaked, with the Saturday 120km race expected to be lengthened to 200km, the same length as Sunday races.
The Adelaide 500 is locked in for February 20-23, and the 13 events and dates that will follow are set to be revealed this week.
Tickford Racing Mustangs filled three of the weekend’s six available podium spots at the OTR SuperSprint, but the Ford outfit still lamented wins that went begging.
Chaz Mostert won trophies on both days, while Will Davison finished second on Sunday.
However, Mostert took pole for Race 21 before losing the start to eventual winner Scott McLaughlin, before Davison’s Race 22 charge was halted when an airbox issue opened the door to another McLaughlin victory.