The V8 Supercars championship stayed in the Sunshine State for round seven, the halfway mark of the season. At the Queensland teams’ home track, it was the Victorian based Prodrive team that continued their dominance of the 2015 season. However, the weekend showed that the second half of the year isn’t going to be boring with high drama in every race.
Qualifying for the Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint race one saw Chaz Mostert out qualify team-mate Mark Winterbottom by a stunning 0.25 seconds. Even more impressive was Kiwi rookie and Prodrive Racing Australia stablemate Andre Heimgartner putting his Falcon into the third spot on the grid, just ahead of fellow countryman Scott McLaughlin. With Scott Pye and David Reynolds putting themselves in ninth and tenth respectively, all five Falcons made the top ten.
The grid for race two was headed up by Red Bull Racing Australia’s Craig Lowndes with Winterbottom lining up along side him. Mostert and McLaughlin filled up row two while Todd Kelly and Reynolds completed the third row.
‘Frosty’ made a white-hot start for race one, putting a large gap on Mostert and McLaughlin, effectively securing the lead within the first few laps. Behind him, McLaughlin, Mostert, Lowndes and van Gisbergen diced throughout the race until the flag. McLaughlin’s run of bad luck this season turned with a second place finish on the day that the paddock celebrated his team owner Garry Roger’s birthday. Lowndes’ damage limitation strategy paid dividends as he took the final step of the podium. He, van Gisbergen, Mostert, James Courtney, Reynolds, James Moffat and Whincup all crossed the line covered by just two and a half seconds. Pye and Jason Bright were the only two retirements of the race with a split oil cooler and front suspension damage respectively.
The beginning of race two gave fans the opening lap battle they’d been waiting for between Winterbottom and Lowndes. Lowndes got the better start and led out of turn one, but Winterbottom put on a classic criss-cross move, getting up the inside at turn two and holding the lead ahead of the turn three hairpin. Despite the Ford having the better track position, it seemed as if Lowndes’ Holden had better pace. For nearly the whole race, he hounded the back of his championship rival, desperate to take the top step and get back some points. However, it wasn’t to be when he made a mistake on the second-last lap, giving the championship leader breathing room. Mostert was able to get the leg-up on Reynolds, claiming the final podium spot ahead of his stablemate. Whincup fought well to finish fifth, grabbing on to his championship aspirations by the ends of his fingernails.
On Sunday, Mostert yet again added $1000 to his bank account after claiming his eighth pole position of the season and his career. He and Winterbottom locked out the front row for the second time of the weekend. The Red Bull Racing Commodores were placed side-by-side on the second row with Lowndes nabbing the better spot. The shock of the session was van Gisbergen qualifying in a lowly twenty-third place, leaving the Kiwi needing to put in a strong effort to stay in the championship hunt.
The final race of the weekend begun with the two PRA Falcons defending their positions from the Red Bull Commodores. For the first time, it was Mostert who got the jump on Winterbottom who only just managed to stay ahead of Whincup and Lowndes. Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney gave Heimgartner a shake up at turn one on lap two, pushing the young Kiwi to the outside which then gave McLaughlin a shot up the inside. Courtney and McLaughlin kept bumping until turn 5 where the Volvo was unsettled from being continuously pushed. The Pepsi Max Fords then stretched their lead over the Red Bull Commodores who were battling each other. Under an imminent threat from Reynolds, Whincup let the faster Lowndes by, leaving the veteran to chase the leaders. After the first round of pit stops, Mostert was still in the box seat with pace to burn though his fuel stop was only short. Whincup had a long stop for fuel which pushed him back to 13th but crucially in traffic. Dale Wood was given a drive through penalty for an unsafe release, running into Ash Walsh after his stop. Coulthard seemed to be struggling with his car, waving Nick Percat through. Lowndes remained close to the charging Falcon of Mostert but wasn’t able to get past. Mostert was on a conservative strategy, running longer than anyone else on the hard compound tyre, allowing him to push at the end on the softs. With only three laps to go, Todd Kelly became the only retirement of the race when his Nissan Altima lost oil pressure, causing him to blow up over the radio. In the end, it was Mostert that took the win to complete Prodrive’s clean sweep of the weekend. Coming home in second ahead of Winterbottom Lowndes clawed back some vital points on the championship leader. Reynolds added to his consistent results with a fourth place finish, while Whincup only managed eighth, capping off another disappointing weekend for the six-time champ.
Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint Winners and Losers
With the championship now past the halfway mark, it’s becoming clearer to see just how things will pan out come December. While Lowndes is staying hot on the heels of Winterbottom, his six-time champion team mate seems all but out of contention for the trophy.
- Mark Winterbottom must be feeling like this is his last year as the perpetual bridesmaid. Not since 2008 has it seemed that he’ll take the crown and given his form over the weekend, it’s going to be pretty hard for the title to slip from his grasp this year. If there’s one line that can be used to describe Frosty’s championship dreams, it’s this. His. To. Lose.
- Craig Lowndes is showing that after so many years behind the wheel, he is not willing to go down without a fight. With rumours abound that next year is set to be his farewell tour, he knows that it’s now or never. He is not only having consistent finishes but he is consistently finishing ahead of his team-mate, a crucial note given that the team will soon have to focus their attentions on one car soon.
- Chaz Mostert and David Reynolds are having a hard-fought battle for third in the championship, only a handful of points separating the pair. They keep going tit-for-tat in each race and have now moved past Fabian Coulthard in the championship rankings. Despite being young, they are both showing their on-track maturity and closing in on Lowndes. If they can both surpass him, they will help Prodrive create history as the first team to get a one-two-three in the championship.
- Shane van Gisbergen was a genuine threat not only at the end of last year but also the beginning of this year. However, after dropping from fifth to ninth in the standings and sitting 579 points adrift of the championship leader, he’ll now be looking forwards to next year because there’s nearly no chance of him grabbing the title this year. The young Kiwi will be hoping to salvage what is left of the season and beat his future team-mates.
- Nissan Motorsport had a mixed weekend though it was the team’s negative results that made the headlines. James Moffat was disqualified from Saturday’s sprint races after his Nissan Altima failed scrutineering for a seal problem with his cylinder heads, sump and rocker/cam covers. This, coupled with Todd Kelly’s DNF and subsequent outburst show that Nissan may now be up against the wall after some strong early season results.
- Dale Wood will be fighting for his seat next year at BJR after a season of lacklustre results and silly incidents this season. He has struggled to match the pace of his team-mates and seems chained to the mid-pack. While he stays out of the action, both good and bad, most of the time, when there’s an issue, it always hurts him. The focus at BJR is on keeping Coulthard but given the delays to sign contracts, Wood could be on his way out too.
Next, it’s back to Sydney Motorsport Park for the first time since February’s test day, marking the last round before the Enduro Cup.