With 200 kilometres cut from the total race distance, the Sunraysia 400, held west of Mildura, will evolve from an endurance race to a sprint.
The Mildura track throws extreme-speed straights into extremely technical sectors. Thick trunks lurk amid tight turns and tree-lined sections, making this one of the busiest tracks for drivers on the off-road racing circuit.
In addition to shortened length, another factor will change the race dramatically. Renowned as the dustiest track on the off-road racing calendar, over an inch of rain has fallen on the track since Thursday morning.
With over 10 years of history as a dust bowl, the rain will create one of two circumstances. The first, the track will be in absolutely perfect race condition, with reduced dust, increased visibility and fast, clean racing on a solid surface.
The second possibility? A 400-kilometre mud bath. With the rain making some sections impassable, the four 100km laps have been changed to six 65-kilometre loops.
In either scenario, Team Toyo and the Open Country M/T-R tyres are ready for battle.
Leading the charge on Toyo Tires are Greg Gartner and Jamie Jennings in the #410 Ford F-150 trophy truck and Brad Gallard and Brett Lehmann in the Geiser Bros trophy truck. The South Australian triple is rounded out by Hayden and Hannah Bentley with the Toyota PH9 V8-powered Racer trophy truck.
All will be looking to improve on hard luck stories in 2016.
“I’m looking for a podium,” said Gallard.
“The V8-powered ‘old faithful’ #454 has had a full rebuild – brand new motor, brand new everything. I think the track will be perfect. I can’t wait. I tested this morning on similar ground with the 39” Open Country M/T-R. It’s so grippy. There will be no dust and it will be moist, not muddy.”
Gallard hopes the new format will give him an opportunity to rub wheels with his team mates and opposition.
“Every race is a sprint these days. If you don’t sprint someone else will and they will make it and lay it down, but still play it smart and respect the terrain.
“I would love to get out there and rub some Toyos together with Greg. I love racing against him,” he said.
Gartner will be taking what he expects to be his last drive in the #410 trophy brawler at Mildura. A new truck, in full Finke battle spec, is en route on a container ship.
“It may be the last event for this one – I am really looking to returning to the dirt,” Gartner said.
“This event always struggles with dust so with the rain it will be spot on. The only thing they had to do was cut some of the low area out because it’s too wet.”
Gartner’s strategy is what we have come to expect and love from the South Australian.
“The strategy is to be full on from the get go. This race is all sprint. I absolutely believe we will be on it from start to finish, and committed for the whole race. I will be a little cautious on the first lap because of the wet, though.
“Brad will be on his home turf, and he will be hard to keep up with. Hayden will be competitive as well. It will change the game to have a little less dust this weekend. It will be slippery to start with, but it’s 26 degrees here at the moment and it will dry out pretty quick.”
As the teams head to scrutineering this evening and onto prologue tomorrow morning we wait, patiently, while our boys prepare to attack the dirt.
Forza Team Toyo!