After a decent holiday, the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship returned to the track, hitting the Top End at the Hidden Valley Raceway. With soft tyres, high grip and high temperatures, the racing was always going to be interesting, a promise that the two races delivered on. Yet another winner was added to the list of successful drivers this year while things kept changing at the top of the championship table.
- Michael Caruso was able to prove the pace of his Nissan Altima by not only putting it on the front row for race one but to take the win after producing a faultless drive. His win was the second for the Nissan team, coming over three years after their first win with James Moffat at Winton in 2013. It was also Caruso’s second victory, with his first an amazing seven years ago, again at Hidden Valley. Not only is he proving to be Nissan’s best driver right now but the petite pilot added his name to the list of ten winners so far in the 2016 season.
- Shane Van Gisbergen proved yet again on Sunday why he was selected to drive in arguably the best team in the Supercars series. The young Kiwi had an average start to the weekend, given a drive-through penalty after an infringement on the safety car restart on Saturday. On Sunday, he kept a cool head and took the lead from team-mate Lowndes by selling him the dummy into turn one. While he sometimes must remember to keep things calm, things are looking up for SVG. Just don’t ask him to drift again!
- Will Davison may not have made it on to the podium but two fourth-place finishes made him the most consistent driver of the weekend. His Tekno Commodore showed good pace though strategy and track position hampered him from moving forwards. He has been there to pick up the pieces when others have faltered in the past but now that he’s in a competitive machine, the rewards are bigger than before. His consistency puts him sixth in the championship, just over 100 points away from the lead. At this stage, it’s anyone’s game.
- Mark Winterbottom was feeling the heat in Darwin, strangely struggling for pace and overall consistency over the two races. A mediocre race one with a ninth place finish wasn’t what the reigning champion and at-the-time points leader wanted. Things were only to get worse on Sunday when a mistimed pass sent him in to the back of Todd Kelly’s Nissan, causing damage for the both and forcing the Ford to take a drive-through penalty. Somehow his day continued to go downhill, an awkward move on Aaren Russell sending the Erebus into a spin and again making Winterbottom go through the pits for a drive-through. Although he is still fourth in the standings, it is weekends like Darwin that he doesn’t need.
- DJR Team Penske can’t seem to take a trick. Despite strong finishes from both cars in the first race of the weekend (Scott Pye P5, Fabian Coulthard P6), both cars got caught up in incidents on Sunday. Coulthard was the pinball between Moffat and Mostert on the opening lap, being sent hard into the wall and out of the race early. Pye was the innocent bystander when he was put into the grass on the run to the hairpin, careering into Caruso, failing to make it back to the pits. The team has to work hard to rebuild or at least fix both cars by Townsville, undoubtedly wanting to bounce back with strong form.
- The Holden Racing Team is living in the shadow of their former success. Saturday’s qualifying and race performance can be described as nothing short of appalling for a team that is meant to be a factory entry. Garth Tander qualified on the last row of the grid, coming home second last of the cars still running. James Courtney ended up finishing 21st in race one, making it a rare occasion where both HRT cars failed to make the top 20. While Courtney finished in fifth in race two, his good finish was mainly from his competitors falling by the wayside. Tander only managed 13th, not the performance of a champion. They will be looking to turn things around for the next round.
We all wish Lee Holdsworth the best after fracturing his hip in a horrible crash at the start of race two. He will be sitting out the Townsville round while he recovers.
The series departs to another hot destination, the Townsville circuit around Reid Park which has proved as a popular round in the past. Prodrive and Mark Winterbottom dominated there last year, a feat they will be looking to repeat.