IRWIN Racing’s Mark Winterbottom is excited by the return of 250km sprint races at this weekend’s NTI Townsville 500.

This weekend’s format will see the return of two 250km races on the Reid Park Street Circuit, with refuelling brought back into play for the first time since the opening round at Mount Panorama in February.

A minimum 120L fuel drop will come into effect, with two compulsory pit stops required in each race to change a minimum of two Dunlop soft compound tyres.

Another change from the recent rounds will see the grid determined for each race by a single 15-minute qualifying session, with the top ten progressing to the shootout to decide the first five rows.

Winterbottom will be looking to follow on from a speedy weekend in Darwin, which yielded results of 22nd, 5th and 7th. Likewise, Pye demonstrated strong qualifying and race pace at Hidden Valley, but combatted several issues throughout the weekend to score finishes of 21st, 13th and 16th in Races 12-14 of the championship.

The streets of Townsville were a strong battleground for Team 18 last year, with Pye nabbing six top ten finishes from six races, starting outside of the top ten in every race of the back-to-back events, while Winterbottom also scored two top ten finishes.

Winterbottom and Pye sit sixth and 13th respectively in the Drivers Championship heading to Hidden Valley, with Team 18 fifth in a competitive teams battle.

Team 18 will hit the track at the NTI Townsville for two 88-lap races featuring two compulsory pit stop, with cars hitting the track for Practice 1 at 10:50am local time on Friday.

All the action can be viewed live on Channel Seven, Fox Sports 506 and Kayo Sports. Check your local guides for further details.

QUOTES
Mark Winterbottom, driver – #18 IRWIN Racing Holden ZB Commodore

“This year we’ve had some great weekends and tough results, but heading to Townsville off a good round definitely makes you feel better, we’re definitely going in the right direction, so I’m excited for the challenge and excited for the longer race format, so fingers crossed we can take some good form in and get some good results,” said Winterbottom.

“The formats are exciting, two 250km races, plus the fuel-drop, two compulsory stops and all those strategy considerations come back into it, but we haven’t been in the car for that distance since the start of the year, let alone at a street circuit with the heat and the brutality of the kerbs, concrete walls and all those elements.

“I think it’s going to surprise a few, we’re race fit but not necessarily race fit for that distance, but I’m looking forward to it, we train hard for these events.

“It’s rare we hit a track like this at this point of the year and not have had a lot of long races under our belt, so it’s a challenge on the car, the driver, the team, but as a driver I like the long formats.

“Townsville is unique, there’s street circuit elements and permanent track elements in the second sector. In 2015 I won back-to-back and it was one of the best weekends of your life, it’s been great and it’s also been hard.

“We’ve had moments where you’ve hit a kerb and components have failed or you end up in the fence, so it can be rewarding but such a brutal place, but it always writes some sort of drama there.”

SCHEDULE – NTI TOWNSVILLE 500 – JULY 9-11
** ALL TIMES AEST, UTC +10:00

FRIDAY
Practice 1 – 10:50am (40 minutes)
Practice 2 – 3:05pm (40 minutes)

SATURDAY
Qualifying (Race 15) – 11:15am (15 minutes)
Top Ten Shootout – 1:05pm
Race 15 – 3:45pm (88 laps)

SUNDAY
Qualifying (Race 16) – 10:15am (15 minutes)
Top Ten Shootout – 12:05pm
Race 16 – 2:45pm (88 laps)