While Championship leader Mark Winterbottom ranks Fabian Coulthard as one of his primary threats for the V8 Supercars title, the Freightliner Racing driver says he could be doing better.
Coulthard, who is out of contract at the end of 2015 and has been in negotiation over a new deal with team owner Brad Jones since late 2014, runs third in the Championship after five rounds 155 points behind the Prodrive Pepsi-Max Ford Falcon FG X driver.
But he gives himself only a ‘B’ for his efforts so far this season, which include a win at the Clipsal 500 on Saturday and five other podiums.
In Darwin last weekend debuting his new Holden Commodore VF ‘Alice’ he could have added significantly to that tally, if not for being taken out at turn one in Saturday’s two 60km races and then slipping off the track from first to third in Sunday’s double-points 200km race when lapping fellow Kiwi Andre Heimgartner.
But Coulthard clearly feels it’s not only his luck that needs to be honed.
“If I was to rate my performance this year I would probably give myself a B,” he told v8supercars.com.au this week. “I have made a couple of errors here and there which have ultimately may have cost us a few positions here and there.
“I feel like I am doing a reasonable job. If you were to evaluate yourself you are always going to be more critical and harsher than someone who views you from the outside.”
Coulthard is undoubtedly one of the key players in the driver market for 2016. With Shane van Gisbergen already signed by Triple Eight, there is a seat available at Tekno Autosports, as well as a potential opening at DJR Team Penske, especially if it expands to two cars.
Other leading drivers who have contracts expiring at the end of 2015 include Darwin winner David Reynolds, Walkinshaw Racing’s Tim Slade and Nissan’s James Moffat.
“Brad sat me down at Homebush last year and wanted to put a deal together so obviously we are still working through it,” Coulthard revealed.
“BJR is the longest team I have ever stayed at and I am pretty happy about that. Three years. Continuity is a big thing. I have had the same engineer (Phil Keed) and same guys on my car every year I have been at BJR and things seem to be working.”
Coulthard’s early-season form suggests he can improve significantly on his previous best drivers’ championship placing of sixth in 2013. Not that he is thinking about that this early in the year, despite his current points position and Winterbottom’s feelings on the matter.
“I feel like we are doing a good job, but the championship finishes in December. So we need to continue doing a good job,” he said.
“I feel like we have made good inroads with our car. We got BJR’s first win on a street track at Adelaide this year, which hasn’t been a massive strength for us.
“Our car is better and more consistent over different rounds than it has been in the past, so I am looking forward to getting to (the next Championship round in) Townsville and just trying to make our Championship as consistent and as close to the front as we can be.
“What wins championships is consistency and we need to remain consistent through the rest of the year to give ourselves the best possible chance at the end of the year.”
Coulthard says a key reason for his strong form in 2015 is the engineering restructure at BJR, which has seen Jason Bright’s engineer Andrew Edwards rise to the positon of chief engineer, overseeing the three car squad that also includes Dale Wood.
“Andrew’s role last year was to engineer Brighty and now that Paul Scalzo has been put into that position, obviously Andrew can oversee all three cars and can syphon the information from all three cars and then help all three cars out. And without wasting too much time.
“It is good that he can oversee everything back at work, he can process stuff and get things happening quicker, whereas previously his sole priority was to give Brighty the best opportunity he could as an engineer. But now he can share that across all three cars.”
Better performance on the Dunlop hard tyre has been one significant gain the engineering team has sorted out, says Coulthard.
“This year we have taken a leap forward on the hard tyre. We have focussed a lot of energy into making the car better on the hard tyre.
“From previous rounds we have used that particular tyre, I feel we have made gains. So in that aspect I feel like we have worked something out, rather than the (new) car has all of a sudden given us hard tyre pace.”
Coulthard also revealed he had words with rookie Heimgartner as he promised he would do post-race on Sunday, after saying in the press conference the Super Black Racing driver contributed to the run-off that dropped him from the Sunday lead.
“I had my view from my cockpit and he had his view from his and that is where it is at really,” he said.