The Pirtek Endurance Cup events will once again play a crucial role in deciding the 2016 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
V8X Supercar Magazine issue #94 takes a look at some of the major talking points for the long-distance events, in the 2016 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 special edition.
Issue #94 is on sale now in stores with the digital edition available in the official V8X app (in the App Store and Google Play), online at DigitalEdition.V8XMagazine.com.au and in the Magzter app store.
CLICK HERE for more information on V8X Supercar Magazine issue #94.
Last season's Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 went some way to deciding the V8 Supercars championship race.
Chaz Mostert's qualifying accident ended his season prematurely, allowing teammate Mark Winterbottom to gain the ascendancy at Prodrive Racing Australia. Meanwhile, Craig Lowndes' win vaulted him into the position of Winterbottom's closest adversary.
All eyes will be on Mostert on his return to Mount Panorama 12 months on from the accident. Mostert did ease his way back with victory alongside Nathan Morcom in the production-car based Bathurst Six Hour earlier in the year, but returning in a Falcon FG X Supercar will present its own mental challenge.
Unlike last season, Mostert heads to Mount Panorama well back in the championship standings while teammate Winterbottom leads the charge for Prodrive Racing Australia against the Triple Eight Race Engineering trio of Jamie Whincup, Shane van Gisbergen and Lowndes.
With Whincup and van Gisbergen so evenly matched and racing for pit preference to avoid costly double stacking in the endurance events, Winterbottom will be hoping inter-team rivalry proves costly for the Red Bull entrants.
Defending Bathurst champions Lowndes and Steven Richards have been freed of any potential inter-team double-stacking issues in Triple Eight's second garage, so will be racing Tekno Autosports for pit preference.
But while Triple Eight, Prodrive Racing Australia and the Holden Racing Team may have dominated at Mount Panorama for more than a decade, the form of the challengers this season suggests someone could break their stranglehold on the event.
Garry Rogers Motorsport, Tekno Autosports, Nissan Motorsport and Brad Jones Racing are amongst the multitude of race winners so far in 2016 and could all lay claim to improving form heading to Mount Panorama.
Also, DJR Team Penske must be factored into the equation. It returns to two cars at Bathurst 12 months on from Scott Pye's impressive run, which marked a real turning point in the team's season.
Throughout the field, there's a real mix in co-driver strategies across the grid. While some teams have opted for the experience of veterans, others are looking to the next generation of talent.
CLICK HERE for the 2016 Pirtek Endurance Cup field.
Leading the way for the veterans is the returning Russell Ingall, who will team with fellow multiple Bathurst winner Rick Kelly at Nissan Motorsport, while Craig Baird returns from a season off at Erebus Motorsport.
Ingall and Baird have a combined total of 43 Bathurst 1000 starts. Lowndes and Richards are the only other drivers to also have started more than 20 Bathurst 1000s.
A host of regular co-drivers return for another endurance season, including drivers who have started 10-plus Bathurst 1000s such as Paul Dumbrell, Jonathon Webb, Dean Canto, Steve Owen, Warren Luff, Jack Perkins, Andrew Jones, Cameron McConville, Luke Youlden and Tony D'Alberto.
In contrast, rising stars James Golding, Matt Campbell and Shae Davies will make their Bathurst 1000s debuts. This trio is highly rated amongst the paddock and seems destined to feature in a full-time capacity in the coming years. The same applies for Dunlop Development Series racers Jack Le Brocq and Macauley Jones, who return for their second Bathurst 1000s.
Super Black Racing's Richie Stanaway is another Bathurst 1000 debutant. The New Zealander has a strong pedigree racing sportscars and open-wheelers in Europe, though the Bathurst 1000 represents his first touring-car outing.
So will the gamble on youth pay dividends for teams, or the veterans who know their way around Mount Panorama?
CLICK HERE to purchase the print edition of V8X Supercar Magazine issue #94.