Weekend Wrap: SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000

Craig Lowndes celebrating his sixth Bathurst 1000 win. Photo by Rhys Vandersyde
Craig Lowndes celebrating his sixth Bathurst 1000 win. Photo by Rhys Vandersyde

Last weekend the V8 Supercars paddock moved on to the hallowed Mount Panorama circuit for the SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000. The flagship of the V8 calendar, this year’s running of the 1000 was the 53rd rendition of the Great Race and as always, proved to be a great few days of racing with a high amount of action thrown in. While many were tipped to take out the endurance classic, it was a pair of old heads that came out on top.

Thursday Practice
The first session of the weekend began on Thursday morning and was swiftly red-flagged after Garth Tander managed to beach his HRT Commodore in a sand trap. Only a few laps after the session restarted, Tim Blanchard became the first driver of the race weekend to find the wall, running wide at turn one and into the concrete wall, only just missing the tyre wall. Chaz Mostert ended the session at the top of the timesheets, continuing his excellent one-lap form.

Session two was for co-drivers only and produced just one solitary incident when David Russell, driving with Rick Kelly, locked up into turn three, spinning and backing his Altima into the wall. Warren Luff, driving with Tander, ended the session quickest ahead of a speedy Dean Canto.

Final practice for Thursday saw a tumbling in lap times with the track gripping up significantly compared to the earlier sessions. So quick was the track that by the end of the session, both Fabian Coulthard and Mark Winterbottom lapped below Coulthard’s 2014 record lap, though it was the quick Kiwi that ended the session fastest. His lap of 2:05.47 meant that he kept his record for yet another day. While there had been much hype about the cars surpassing the magical 300km/h thanks to a new drop gear ratio (Scott McLaughlin was the fastest through the trap at 296km/h), everything was overshadowed that night as V8 Supercars announced David Reynolds would be fined AU$25k for a sexist comment in the day’s press conference.

Friday Practice
Friday morning brought a new day and new crazy times. The first of the two sessions of the day was again just for co-drivers, all of which were running on used tyres with less than ideal grip. Cameron Waters set a new Bathurst record, becoming the fastest co-driver to lap the Mountain after putting in a 2:05.72 on Mostert’s old rubber. The shocks of the session were Russell Ingall and Marcos Ambrose getting near the sharp end, ending the dash third and fifth respectively.
The final practice session before qualifying became yet another important session in V8 Supercars history with the first sub-2:05 minute lap, recorded at the death of practice by Jamie Whincup. While Coulthard looked like he would keep his record, a late push by Scott Pye put the DJR Team Penske Falcon to the top of the table. Moments later, Whincup surged across the line, recording a blistering 2:04.9097, the first V8 Supercars driver to do so.

While Pye missed out on getting the lap record, he set a new record that went nearly unnoticed, managing to be recorded traveling at 304km/h through the speed trap, becoming the fastest ever V8 Supercars driver.

Friday Qualifying
Friday afternoon’s qualifying was built up to be one of rocketship times and high risks but nearly ended in tragedy. Mostert was one of the first cars on the road and provided a heart-stopping few minutes on his first flying lap. Coming down the hill into Forrest Elbow, he clipped the left side wall before the dip, sending himself into the right side wall and then finally back onto the other side. When his car hit the last barrier, the rear vaulted over the barrier and took out a marshall’s post, injuring all five to varying degrees. In the multiple impacts, Mostert broke his wrist and left leg, leaving him to be stretchered into an ambulance, and out of the race. He was later airlifted to a nearby hospital. V8 Supercars later cancelled all on-track activity for the rest of the day, postponing qualifying until Saturday.

Saturday Practice
While practice six is usually used for top ten drivers to refine their qualifying setup and those outside of the ten to complete race simlulations, it was instead used for all drivers to prepare and psych themselves up for qualifying again.

Pye was at the top of the timesheets for most of the session, easily a second ahead of the competition. However, at the end, it was again Coulthard who put in a last lap flyer, putting him top ahead of Winterbottom and Pye. The solitary incident of the session occurred when Ash Walsh spun at turn one, parking on the kerb. Lee Holdsworth was the next to arrive and had to take evasive action to avoid Walsh’s stricken Erebus Mercedes.

Saturday Qualifying
Qualifying for the top ten shootout was marred by a typical Bathurst weather front, with the session starting in dry conditions but ending with rain. Coulthard timed his lap to perfection, nailing all three sectors just as the rain hit the top of the Mountain. A few drivers had already put in strong banker laps, while a handful of key players were knocked out of the ten. Winterbottom, Lowndes and Tander were the biggest stars to be scalped in the session, coming home 14th, 15th and 19th respectively. Coulthard, Shane van Gisbergen, Tim Slade, Whincup, Pye, Jason Bright, McLaughlin, David Reynolds, Holdsworth and James Moffat were the top ten at the session’s conclusion.

Top Ten Shootout
Moffat was the first on track and seemed to be struggling throughout his session, being the pioneer in the wet conditions. He could only manage a lap of 2:30.0084, the benchmark for the session. Holdsworth was next out finding more grip and notching up time of 2:29.8139. Reynolds left for his lap just as the rain stopped, slightly helping his chances to secure pole. He was able to drive smoothly and cleanly, putting in a new best lap at 2:27.8201, nearly two seconds up on Holdsworth. Fan favourite and one-lap stunner McLaughlin next hit the track, the rain starting to pick up again. While his lap was smooth, he could only manage a 2:28.9746, putting him second. Next it was the turn of Bright, putting his BJR Commodore into third, lapping at 2:29.7006. After Bright’s lap, the rain started to come down harder, worsening the conditions of the track. Pye was unable to capitalise on the clear dry pace of his DJR Team Penske Falcon, 2:31.6312 was the time he clocked, the slowest yet. However, he wouldn’t have to start from tenth as Whincup struggled even more on his lap, only managing a 2:32.0536. Slade was the next in the SuperCheap Auto Holden, evidently struggling the most as he could only record a dismal lap of 2:34.7168. The ever entertaining van Gisbergen was the second last car to hit the track. Leaving the pits, he tried his hardest to warm up his Dunlops, keeping the throttle planted and the car sideways. Unfortunately, sixth was all he could muster with a lap of 2:30.8456. Last up was fellow Kiwi Coulthard. For the second year running, Coulthard was unable to capitalise on his position as last to go out, recording a 2:32.1246 run, dropping him to ninth. With no-one able to beat histime Reynolds secured his first Bathurst pole, and with it his best chance yet to win at Bathurst. Behind, McLaughlin, Bright, Holdsworth, Moffat, van Gisbergen, Pye, Whincup, Coulthard and Slade made up the top ten running order.

Race
The race began on a dry track, although there were spots of rain 20 minutes before the start. Off the line, Canto held off McLaughlin and led the first lap. Owen lost six spots on the opening lap, making it harder for he and Winterbottom throughout the day. Meanwhile Van Gisbergen sliced his way through the field, moving up to third by the end of the lap. For the next few laps, McLaughlin and van Gisbergen hounded the back of Canto, who had to play the long game and let them past.
Dumbrell had an average beginning and was forced to follow Lowndes for a few laps, although the fact they are team-mates for the weekend didn’t stop him from having a crack at the five-time Bathurst winner.

One-tenth of the way through the race, the safety car was deployed to retrieve the stricken Volvo of David Wall, who had an engine failure coming down the hill. Unfortunately, Renee Gracie in the all-female Falcon was a unfortunate victim of the incident running onto his oil, and putting her Harvey Norman Supergirls Falcon into the wall at Forrest Elbow and effectively taking the car out of the race. The wildcard entry did get back out on track with their garage repairing the severely damaged just before the lap 55 deadline, giving IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro her chance to get behind the wheel with 108 laps left in the Great Race.

When racing resumed, it was Alexandre Prémat at the front of the field, leading from Jonothan Webb and Luke Youlden. Reynolds seemed to be struggling to keep up, losing a spot to Whincup a few laps later. The Winterbottom Falcon looked like it didn’t have race pace, trucking along in 17th around lap 27. Whincup showed that the #1 car had pace, getting past Youlden and Webb within a few laps. He then kept pushing, reeling in Prémat in the Volvo. By lap thirty-two, he got by the Frenchman and took the lead of the race. Prémat then had a battle on his hands, dropping to fourth in only a number of laps after running off at the Chase. Jack Perkins made a crucial error on lap 35, overcooking his entry to the pits, having to straighten up the car and go around for another lap.

Ant Pedersen was taken out on lap 36 after a tap at turn one from Karl Reindler, spinning into the inside wall. This triggered a flurry of pit stops, opening up race strategies, and landed Reindler with a pit-stop penalty. Once the Safety Car came in, Fiore was given a pit lane penalty for warming his tyres just before the Safety Car period ended. Laps later, the Winterbottom Falcon was shown the mechanical black flag for a brake light issue, caused by an electrical drama. While the team consulted MoTec, they waited too long to bring the championship leader in. In his stop, Owen jumped behind the wheel and was given a penalty for the delay in stopping, putting them almost a minute down.

Brit Oliver Gavin was lucky to avoid bringing out the safety car after an incident with Will Davison. The Erebus driver snuck up the inside at Forrest Elbow but only managed to spin the #222 entry, backing it into the wall. Gavin was able to spin the car around the right way and driver back to the pits. Davison was later given a pit lane penalty for the contact. At the front, the pace of the #1 Red Bull Racing Commodore was clear, stretching its lead to 15 seconds over Coulthard in the #14.

On lap 80, Tim Blanchard had another massive crash at Reid Park, destroying his LDM Holden. Blanchard was fine and taken away by the medical team for checks. The crash provided a half-time break for the drivers, allowing some to take their pit stops.
Racing resumed on lap eighty-four, Whincup leading from Lowndes, Webb, Youlden and Canto. Pye got past Canto on lap 86, elevating the DJR Team Penske machine into fifth place. Owen in the #5 was stuck in the mid-pack, struggling with traffic.

The privateer entry of Novocastrian Motorpsort punched above their weight, holding off many and consistently running in the mid-field. Pye was later able to get by Youlden, just as the rain started to hit the top of the Mountain. Riding on a wave of confidence, he was even able to get past Webb, a lap after the track was declared wet. Most of the field pitted for wets but Whincup stayed out as the rain continued to come down hard. His gamble paid off and he was able to stretch out his lead while everyone stopped, despite being on slicks. As he pitted and extended his lead, the radio connection between him and his team was lit up, as he complained about a throttle position sensor issue.

The sun soon came back out and the track dried, leaving those on wets to pit for slicks. Winterbottom was the first to blink, taking off his grooved tyres. Lowndes, Reynolds and a few others were next. Whincup was one of the last to pit for slicks, as well as van Gisbergen. This effectively put Reynolds in the race lead after the cycle, Dumbrell in second, McLaughlin third then Lowndes and Winterbottom. McLaughlin was able to get by Dumbrell who was struggling with grid on the drying surface. Lowndes was later able to get by both Dumbrell and McLaughlin, setting his sights on Reynolds. On lap 118, Lowndes was able to get by Reynolds at turn two, the Prodrive racer giving him plenty of room to get by.

On lap 122, the crowd got their ponchos back out as the rain started to come back down. Although it was only a light sprinkle, it was enough to worry those in the pits. Dumbrell came in to the pits on lap 125, taking on new brake pads and tyres. Whincup took the wheel of car #1 until the end of the race. A lap later and McLaughlin pitted, just for tyres. The rest pitted over the next few laps, Reynolds emerging as the leader in front of Winterbottom, Lowndes and Whincup. Even though fuel was the determining factor of the stops, track position and clean air was important for the front running cars. The Drew and Aaron Russell car was driving well in twentieth when the car started billowing smoke for half a lap, with the smoke mysteriously stopping. Reynolds lost his lead advantage after being held up by a backmarker for three laps, race officials not showing the blue flags, much to his team’s dismay. Ash Walsh retired on lap 135, running wide at the Cutting and hitting the wall. Winterbottom applied the pressure to the back of his Prodrive team-mate, parking right underneath Reynolds’ rear wing. The fight allowed Lowndes and Whincup to catch up, making it a Ford-Ford-Holden-Holden top four.

Pye brought out the safety car on the first lap of the pit window after crashing at the top of the Mountain, destroying the #17 Ford. After the pit stops, Lowndes emerged as the leader, Whincup behind, followed by Reynolds, Coulthard and Winterbottom. As soon as the racing restarted, Whincup was given a pit lane penalty for overtaking the safety car after ignoring team orders and staying out another lap. Coulthard attempted a move on Reynolds the lap after the restart but both were slowed, leaving Winterbottom to pass them both and chase Lowndes. Tander muscled his way past the pair and McLaughlin, chasing Winterbottom out front. In the dying laps, Lowndes’ crew was worried about being short on fuel, bringing a sense of déjà vu to them after the misery of Whincup’s loss last year. However, no such troubles struck Lowndes who was able to keep the gap to Winterbottom and take the chequered flag, securing his sixth Bathurst 1000 and the fourth for Steven Richards. Winterbottom and Owen came second; Garth Tander and Warren Luff completed the podium. It was the first time since 1987 that all three podium finishers had started outside the top ten.

The official Bathurst 1000 results.
The official Bathurst 1000 results.

SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000 Winners and Losers

Compared to last year’s Great Race, this year’s was much faster as well as calmer, despite rain spicing up the endurance classic. It was again a case of “anyone can win” but a mix of strategies and safety cars narrowed the list of potential winners, adding to the list of losers.

Winners

  1. Craig Lowndes proved the doubters and critics (including yours truly) wrong by putting in a cool, calculated drive to take his sixth 1000. Even though he and co-driver Steven Richards started from 15th, their combined experience paid off, giving them an extremely popular win. While it is doubtful he will ever pass Peter Brock’s record of nine 1000 wins, as well as a fourth championship, he is proving that the old dog can still perform new tricks.
  2. Mark Winterbottom may not have won a second Bathurst 1000, but he was able to limit the damage from the day, coming back from penalties and car issues to finish a solid second place. He and Owen recovered well, implementing a strong strategy after being the last of the running cars at one stage. Their drive, combined with the sixth place finish of Reynolds and Mostert now seemingly being out of the season, means Winterbottom now has a large lead over Lowndes in the championship hunt.
  3. Garth Tander may have been driving the “Dark Side” Star Wars-themed HRT Commodore but he was certainly looking on the bright side of life after coming from 22nd on the grid to a sensational second place. Warren Luff did the perfect job as a co-driver, keeping the car off the wall and on the place to allow Tander to fight through the field. The 2007 champion pulled off one of the passes of the race after getting past two cars in one move at Griffin’s Bend.

Losers

  1. Jamie Whincup again has to do a good amount of explaining to his team after disobeying team orders for the second year running, leaving him to come home in 19th. While Paul Dumbrell put in a stereotypically faultless drive to get the #1 Holden to the front, Whincup threw it all away when he overtook the safety car, dissolving any chance of a win or a team one-two result. There’s no doubt he is one of the best racers of the modern age, he needs to remember a win is more than a win for him: it’s for the team.
  2. Tim Blanchard and Karl Reindler were unable to keep riding their wave of confidence after an impressive Sandown 500, ending up crashing out of the Bathurst 1000. Reindler took the #111 entry of Heimgartner and Pedersen out of the race after bumping Pedersen on the exit of turn one, sending the Super Black Racing entry into the wall. Blanchard then had a hard crash at the top of the Mountain, sliding into the wall and totalling the car. While everyone has their bad days, Blanchard has to speed up if he’s going to keep his seat next year.
  3. Nissan Motorsport brought engine upgrades for all cars bar the Moffat/Douglas machine, looking to move up to the sharp end of the pack at the most power-dependent circuit of the season. Instead, it was Moffat’s car that was the highest placed of the bunch, ending up tenth. Cars #23, #15 and #7 came home 13th, 16th and 20th respectively, far from the result the team wanted.
Lowndes en route to a historic win.
Lowndes en route to a historic win. Photo by Rhys Vandersyde

Next up is the final race of the Pirtek Enduro Cup, the Gold Coast 600 in Surfers Paradise. The event gets underway in two weeks’ time, signalling the end of the endurance season and the beginning of the run home to the finish.

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