The streets of Adelaide provided yet another spectacular opening to the V8 Supercars season with the 17th running of the Clipsal 500. It was a weekend that provided three different winners from all three races as well as the typical Turn 8 carnage. But, right from the first race, it was clear that this season is set to be one of the closest yet.
Friday’s qualifying sessions saw reigning six-time champion Jamie Whincup twice smash the lap record to land pole for both Saturday’s 125 km races firing an telling early warning in his bid for a seventh title. Had Team BOC’s Jason Bright not locked up into the final turn while on track to steal pole, it could have been a very different outcome, but the Brad Jones Racing outfit look strong with Lockwood Racing’s Fabian Coulthard narrowly beaten into second and fourth over the two back-to-back qualifying sessions. Much of the talk pre-season was about crowd-favourite Scott McLaughlin’s title challenge and he wrestled his Wilson Security GRM Volvo S60 into the top three in both sessions, while fellow young gun Chaz Mostert placed the new Pepsi Max Crew FG X Falcon into fourth on the grid on its debut weekend for the first race. And with James Courtney lining up fifth and third respectively, all the signs looked good for the Holden Racing Team.
Before the first race of the season had even started the drama unfolded when McLaughlin’s Volvo dropped an oil line on the formation lap, causing a small fire in the car’s engine bay and forcing the Kiwi to sit out the race. This delayed the start of the race by around 10 minutes, increasing the tension before the start. But it was with a certain sense of déjà vu, when Whincup pulled away from the pack, remaining out front for a majority of the race. Rookies Andre Heimgartner and Ash Walsh had a coming together at Turn 9 when Heimgartner’s Super Black Racing Falcon was spun into Walsh’s path by Dale Wood after he struggled to pull up the GB Galvanizing Racing Commodore for the hairpin. Only one Safety Car was deployed during the race to recover Will Davison’s stricken Erebus E63 after it lost power. Coupled with the delayed start, the race ran to a time certain finish, leaving Whincup and Mostert to sprint it out to the line. Despite good pace from the FG X Falcon, it was Whincup who claimed the win, his 90th career victory, leaving him second in the all-time winners list behind Red Bull Racing team mate Craig Lowndes (97 wins) and equal with Mark Skaife. Coulthard claimed the third step of the podium ahead of Lowndes in the second RBRA Commodore and Mark Winterbottom in the second Pepsi-Max FG X, while Marcos Ambrose finished 16th on debut for DJR Team Penske.
Wilson Security Racing GRM got McLaughlin’s car out with a new engine for Race Two, but his bad luck continued after flinching on the start line, which resulted in a penalty for jumping the start. Only a few laps in, Mostert was the first to find the notorious Turn 8 wall after clipping the inside guard rail, ending his day. Further drama followed at the Turn 9 hairpin a few laps later when Michael Caruso, trying to overtake Winterbottom, lost control and bumped David Reynolds, putting the Prodrive Racing Australia/Rod Nash Racing entry in to a spin. With Caruso’s front bumper rubbing on the front left tyre of the Altima and slowly deflating he turned to enter turn 8, but the car never made the apex and hit the outside wall hard, pushing the concrete block backwards and putting the Nissan Motorsports entry out of the race. McLaughlin decision to serve his ten second hold penalty under the Safety Car was later deemed to be illegal, and led to stewards adding 10 seconds to his finish time. Whincup seemed to be having it all his own way until he was passed by Coulthard and then felt his tyre begin to delaminate. On the entry to Turn 8, the tyre then let go, leaving Whincup to skilfully wrestle his Commodore around the turn and back to the pits. Coulthard remained out front for the rest of the race, leading Courtney and Lowndes to the podium, after McLaughlin’s 10-second penalty pushed him back from third to ninth.
Sunday’s action opened with qualifying and the Top 10 shootout, setting the grid for the final 250km race. The biggest surprise from the main qualifying session was Ambrose being the only Ford driver to make the Top 10. Courtney wrangled his HRT entry to pole with Coulthard again securing second. Underlying the closeness of the V8 Supercars category, just one tenth of a second separated the top six while just 0.25 sec had separated the top 10 drivers in qualifying, setting up a thrilling final race.
Even at the end of the first lap, drivers started to come into pit lane to refuel, showing the different strategies for the race. The first incident happened on lap 24 when Ash Walsh’s Erebus E63 AMG developed a misfire then gave up the ghost on the run to Turn 8, bringing out the safety car to retrieve the stricken car. Most of the field headed in to the pits again to open up strategy possibilities, the biggest loser being Winterbottom, having to double-stack behind team-mate Mostert.
The second safety car of the race was deployed on lap 33 after Lee Holdsworth’s Walkinshaw Commodore hit the fearsome Turn 8 wall, forcing officials to realign the concrete barrier. This set up a great battle between Courtney, on a three-stop strategy, and van Gisbergen on a two-stop strategy. van Gisbergen had to fight past Winterbottom and Tander before getting a lock on Courtney, going toe-to-toe with him for the last 20 or so laps. The pair made contact at turn 9, briefly handing van Gisbergen the lead before the Tekno Darrell Lea driver readdressed the position. The two continued to battle it out to the flag but it was Courtney that crossed the line first, the first driver since Whincup in 2008/09 to win the Clipsal 500 back-to-back.
The action didn’t stop there though. Battling for fourth place Mostert and Whincup collided into Turn 10 putting the Prodrive Racing Falcon into the wall hard and back into the path of the oncoming James Moffat eliminating both cars. Both were later cleared by medical staff, while stewards ruled that the incident hadn’t breached the rules.
It’s still hard to gauge just who will have the pace to take out the title this year. There are many possible contenders from many different teams, but one thing’s for sure with so much action and drama in this opening round, we’re in for another incredible season.
Next up in the Championship, the drivers will have to tame the short but fast Symmons Plains circuit. But before that the V8 Supercars play second fiddle to the start of the Formula 1 championship at Albert Park with four 30-minute non-points-paying support races.
Adelaide Winners and Losers
- James Courtney’s pace and consistency shows that he may have a chance to become a two-time champion this year. One 3rd placing and one win under extreme pressure from van Gisbergen is a sign that after almost a decade of re-building, the Holden Racing Team may once again end the year on top.
- Fabian Coulthard took victory in race 2 of Brad Jones Racing’s 100th round with Holden. After a horrible finish to last season, Coulthard has undeniably found his feet and showed that in his 10th season of V8 Supercars, he could be a genuine title contender this year.
- Shane van Gisbergen continued on his excellent 2014 season by chalking up a podium finish and constantly running at the front of the pack. On track for a good result in race 2, the Giz was spun at the turn 9 hairpin, dropping spots and finishing in a position that didn’t reflect his performance.
- Scott McLaughlin had a terrible weekend, with the hype turning to disbelief as he failed to make the grid for race 1. Despite an excellent job by the team at GRM, the Kiwi’s race 2 was just as unlucky after a jump start and a badly timed penalty serve meant that 10 seconds was added to his finish time. Things didn’t get any better on Sunday when he couldn’t drink water from the start of the race and his cool-suit failed on lap 5. He was later extracted from the car, failing to finish the race after severe dehydration.
- Will Davison’s opening to his second year with Erebus was dismal, failing to finish in both race 1 and 2. Race 3 wasn’t much better, coming home in 19th place and putting an end to a disappoint Clipsal 500. Davison will be hoping to finish every race at the next round at Symmons Plains.
- Chaz Mostert finished a close second in the first race to Jaime Whincup but failed to finish in the remaining two races. Race 2 saw Mostert hit the turn 8 was, forcing his team to work on the car to get it ready for Sunday. In race 3, the Prodrive Racing Australia young gun was on track for a top 5 finish when he collided with Whincup at turn 10 on the final lap, putting him into the wall. Mostert tried to limp back to the pits and was later cleared of causing the crash.