One team dominates our Winners and Losers list after the 2018 Sandown 500. So who gained and who was left pained in the Enduro opener?
With 900 points on offer on offer over the three Supercars Enduro Cup events, the Sandown 500 is always seen as one of the most important races of the year for many reasons, but this year’s opening round was particularly special for one team.
As a majority of the field embraced the history of the sport with the third annual “retro round”, for the third year in a row the winners of the throwback race were more focused on setting up their cars than changing the stickers.
In a change from the last two races held at the historic Melbourne circuit, all 161 laps were completed and while it wasn’t a grandstand finish, the 500km of racing have set the tone heading to Mount Panorama for The Great Race.
- Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell should be called the endurance doctors because they put on a clinic at Sandown, dominating proceedings right from when the green light came on for practice one until the chequered flag came out at lap 161. Dumbrell has always been seen as a gun-for-hire co-driver after stepping back from full-time driving in 2011. And he showed he’s still got pace setting a new lap record on just his second flying lap in Friday practice. His start from second for the 500km race was perfect and put him into the lead early on, running away up front. When he handed the car over to Whincup, it was clear that nothing would stop them on their charge to victory. It was vintage J-Dub in the closing stints, never looking challenged by his rivals, his team-mates, on the run to flag. While mistakes have hindered their previous Bathurst campaigns, the #1 car will be a very safe bet on the first weekend of October.
- Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber were the flying Kiwis at the Sandown 500, digging deep on Sunday to fight back after setbacks in the two qualifying races. Starting from the sixth row of the grid, the pair showed their class moving up the field to take second spot on the podium and in doing so, extending van Gisbergen’s lead at the top of the Supercars standings to 55 points. Bamber came into the weekend with high expectations given his wealth of experience in endurance racing, but the question of how he’d adapt to the Supercars race cars still hung around. He showed great racecraft in the race for the grid session for co-drivers and at the start of Sunday’s race, making up a handful of spots in his stint. More importantly, he handed over the car to the main driver without problem. From there, van Gisbergen used a better pit strategy and car speed to make his way up the order, passing the DJR Team Penske cars and his quasi team-mate Craig Lowndes to follow Whincup to the second step. With the Bathurst 1000, a track where he has always been strong but not yet stood on the top step of the podium, van Gisbergen will be looking to continue that momentum and break that duck.
- Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards notched up a combined 1,112 starts on Sunday, their experience coming to the fore in the 2018 Sandown 500 race as they worked their way up the field from tenth to come home on the last step of the podium, joining the rest of the cars from the Triple Eight stable. Despite the speed of the other two cars, the #888 Caltex-backed entry never seemed too threatening over the weekend, but as usual, the old dogs showed everyone a few new tricks, slowly chipping away through the pack ahead of them. Richards did his job as a strong and quick co-driver, hanging around the top ten and top five before handing the car over to Lowndes who got as high as second before just slipping back behind van Gisbergen on lap 123, ahead of the fourth and final pitstop. As it will be their last endurance season together and Lowndes’ last as a full-time driver, the cheers for the veterans will be deafening at Mount Panorama as they try to notch up a combined 12th Bathurst 1000 victory.
- Simona De Silvestro and Alex Rullo were the odd couple pairing coming in to the Enduro Cup with the Swiss Miss seeming unhappy to be paired with the sport’s youngest ever driver. In the ailing Nissan Altima, Rullo was fighting at the back of the pack in the co-driver qualifying race when he was caught up in an incident, going off the road twice, pitting and ending up as not classified. Simona had to fight for 22nd in her race, starting very close to the last row of the grid for Sunday. In the main race, the pair trundled round for points staying out of trouble until the venerable Nissan engine developed an issue late on, forcing the team to retire the Harvey Norman car on lap 123. As the only DNF of the race, it was a depressing result for the Nissan team looking to retain their star signing for 2019.
- Lee Holdsworth and Jason Bright have been the back-of-the-pack battlers over the past few years in their respective roles and teaming up together didn’t exactly change their fortunes. Bright was hired by the team after Matthew Brabham’s limited test time was cut short due to crashes in private tests, forcing Team 18 to look for a driver with more experience. While Bright only retired from full-time racing last year, his lack of pace in the ZB Commodore saw him caught up in the 20th place world championship, ending up in a silly incident with Warren Luff in the first race for the grid. Before Holdsworth could get into the car on Sunday, Bright brought out the safety car, going too deep into Dandenong Road, and bogging himself in the gravel. The incident made it a lonely race for Holdsworth who finished on lap 145, 16 laps down on the leaders. Heading in to Bathurst and just about every other round, the privateer team will be looking for a reversal of fortunes to make it back to fight at the front.
- Tickford Racing came into the 2018 Sandown 500 as the defending champions, winning two of the last three races here after taking a one-two back in 2015. A top ten result was fortunate for the Melbourne based squad as their season-long woes continues. While last year’s winners were split up (Cam Waters being placed with David Russell and Richie Stanaway with 2017 Enduro Cup champion Steve Owen), a best result of tenth for Chaz Mostert and James Moffat was all they could muster in a race where the pace reflected their season. A top ten start for Dean Canto (co-driver to Mark Winterbottom) saw the #5 car stay in the top five for the opening portion of the race, but struggles throughout the race saw them drop to 17th by lap 161. The Waters/Russell car could do no better than unlucky 13th, while Stanaway had his worst finish yet at Sandown, ending up way back in 20th place. This season seems like a write-off for a team who will effectively be a factory squad next year, but with nothing to lose, some of their drivers are a dangerous prospect at Bathurst.
Next up, it’s the big one; the Bathurst 1000. The most prestigious race on the Australian motorsports calendar, it will always remain the jewel in the crown for the Supercars season as everyone throws everything but the kitchen sink at winning the 161 lap fight around Mount Panorama.