After a month long break, the V8 Supercars championship reignited in Perth, giving drivers a chance to step back into their battle machines and go to war. The at Barbagallo Raceway pit lane was abuzz with talk from the break: DJR’s testing, the signing of Sébastian Bourdais and the seemingly ongoing feud between Will Davison and James Courtney. However, once the racing got going, all eyes were on the on-track action.
Practice and qualifying showed that the Prodrive duo of Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom had the upper hand over the rest of the pack. Mostert and Winterbottom qualified on pole for races one and two of the weekend respectively. Championship leader Jamie Whincup only managed a lowly 21st position for the start of race one but put his Red Bull Racing Commodore on the front row for race two.
The opening 25-lap heat got underway with Winterbottom beating Mostert off the line and leading into turn 1, setting the tone for the remainder of the race. Taking the flag 0.6s ahead of Mostert, Winterbottom secured Prodrive’s first V8 Supercars Championship race win and one-two finish of the season. Craig Lowndes stayed in a solid third behind the Ford pair, coming home ahead of Shane van Gisbergen, Jason Bright and David Reynolds. The Holden Racing Team had a tough race with Garth Tander retiring from fourth after a rear-left suspension failure and James Courtney falling back to tenth from sixth due to quickly degrading tyres. Meanwhile, Whincup could only manage 15th, losing ground in the championship battle.
Starting from pole position alongside Whincup in the second 60km fixture, Winterbottom made a clean getaway, putting an immediate gap between himself and Whincup. The Ford man remained in front for the remainder of the race, pulling off a perfect lights to flag victory. Despite struggling for speed throughout, Whincup held on for second, holding off the pressure from an attacking Freightliner Racing’s Fabian Coulthard. Having started in fifth, Mostert got by Lowndes on lap nine, to take fourth ahead of the Red Bull Holden. Scott McLaughlin had yet another woeful race, having to retire after his Volvo developed a throttle issue, forcing him to limp back to the garage. Fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen, having had a poor qualifying session, then finished dead last after re-using his tyres from the first race, clearly saving a clean set for Sunday’s 200-kilometre race.
Sunday’s qualifying action got off to an unexpected start when only five minutes into the session, Walkinshaw Racing’s Lee Holdsworth found a unique way to prevent tyre wear by rolling his car at the bowl of turn 6. Suffering a deflating rear tyre, the back end stepped out, putting the car in the dirt and causing a slow quarter roll. With five minutes to go, Fabian Coulthard then buried his car in the sand at the same corner, again halting the proceedings. The session resumed and at its conclusion, it was Mostert again who came out on top, beating his team-mate to pole.
With a front row advantage, Winterbottom made yet another flying start when Mostert lost grip, and exchanging paint with Tander down into turn 1. Despite initially going well, the PRA duo were hampered by a Safety Car with just over 30 laps remaining. The Erebus entry of Ash Walsh was the trigger for the safety car and a flurry of early pitstops. With their strategy wrecked, Winterbottom and Mostert fought to come home fifteenth and fourth respectively.
Running on softs, Lowndes, Will Davison and Coulthard were in the box seat, but for the last few laps, it was evident that Davison had both a better car and better tyres than Lowndes who was struggling to drive out of the corners. With only a handful of laps to go, Davison capitalised on Lowndes running wide at turn 6 and took the lead in the E63, staying there until the chequered flag, denying Lowndes his 100th victory. It was his first win since Townsville in 2013 and the first for Erebus Motorsport since Winton last season. Coulthard put a move on Mostert in the dying stages, securing yet another podium finish. Just after Davison made a move on Lowndes, Scott Pye and Andre Heimgartner tangled at turn 1, beaching both cars. However, race control chose not deploy the safety car, leaving the two cars under local yellows. It was day to forget for Jamie Whincup, having speared through the sand trap at Turn 6. The six-time champion finished 19th and dropped to fifth in the standings.
Perth SuperSprint Winners and Losers
The weekend’s racing showed that the 200km races on Sunday provide much more action and excitement than the sprint races. Strategy becomes crucial and as Erebus showed, doing the right thing at the right time will mean that the team can reap the rewards.
- Winning both Saturday races, Mark Winterbottom broke a 10-month long dry spell, earning his first race win since Darwin last year and going back-to-back for the first time since 2012. These wins as well as starting on the front row for every race showed the true potential of the FG X Falcon, given qualifying has always been his weakest link. With his adversary Whincup seemingly struggling when back in the pack, Frosty must capitalise on his advantage if he wants to get his maiden championship.
- Craig Lowndes has shown that above all else, consistency is key. In his 19th season, ‘the kid’ is still punching up at the top at the table and now leads the championship. Despite not being able to get win 100, it’s clear that while in some previous years his speed has fluctuated, he may now have the car underneath him and the team behind him to get championship number four.
- Will Davison proved that the old motto “when the flag drops, the talking stops” is still quite relevant today. After intense media scrutiny following his confrontation with Courtney in Tasmania, he put it all behind him and focused on the job in hand. Not only did he play the strategy game right, on Saturday he was engulfed in a battle with Courtney but didn’t engage in any contact. He’s also shown that Erebus Motorsport may have just got an advantage over the struggling Nissan and Volvo camps, as its recent engine upgrades clearly paid off.
- Jamie Whincup said that he was embarrassed to come second in race 2, so you can imagine how he must feel to come 15th and 19th on the same weekend. Slipping from being at the top of the points table, he now sits in fifth but must be feeling the pressure after failing to perform in races one and three. It seems that when he’s buried in the mid-pack, Whincup either excels (Bathurst 2014) or fails to fire which causes him to lose ground to his title rivals.
- Scott Pye and the whole DJR Team Penske operation must be wondering just what is going wrong this year. After a successful test where it changed from 888-spec Sachs shocks to PRA’s Supa Shocks, the team yet again failed to fire at when it really mattered. While Prodrive Racing Australia has got to grips with the Falcon FG X, it seems DJRTP hasn’t got its head around the car yet.
- Andre Heimgartner had a forgettable weekend compared to Tasmania. With a best of 16th and a DNF to his name, you’d forgive him for wanting to be at Winton already. While the DNF was no fault of his own, the failure to back up his stellar results from Symmons Plains would surely be frustrating the kid of the pack. Despite racing at Barbagallo before and feeling confident in the new Falcon, it just wasn’t to be this time around for him. He’ll be looking ahead to the next round where he might just be able to topple his more experienced team-mates.
Next up, the circus hits Winton in two weekends time where Lowndes will be more determined than ever to notch up a century.