The Supercars endurance season well and truly started with a bang this weekend. A jam-packed weekend with two major incidents bringing out the reg flag eventually saw Sunday’s Sandown 500km feature race get up and running, before ending with a brilliant finish and championship changing results.
- Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway were the underdogs coming in to this weekend but their level heads and undeniable driving talent saw the pair win their first Supercars main game race. An impressive drive by both in Saturday’s qualifying races put them on pole for Sunday, something which Stanaway capitalised on in his opening stint. Both drivers were near faultless throughout the whole race, the only drama occuring when a wheel nut took longer than usual to come off in a pit stop but it did not delay them. Waters had a tough debut year in 2016 but has well and truly matured this season while Stanaway has shown a deft touch every time he gets behind the wheel. These future stars well and truly deserved their first win and will be looking for more in the future.
- Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat may have missed out on their first race win together though a strong second place has helped the Kiwi’s championship challenge no end. The pole king of this year will have to wait until the Bathurst 1000 though to try and match Jamie Whincup’s single season qualifying record, just losing out on snatching his 13th pole position of the year. Premat performed well, driving consistently and with pace, showing why he is one half of the reigning Enduro Cup champions. McLaughlin couldn’t quite catch up to the lead car but would be happy to settle for second, importantly ahead of his title rivals. The dynamic duo have also shown the DJR Team Penske Falcon is good in the long races, giving them confidence going in to the Bathurst 1000.
- Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen fought back from an early penalty to put two Prodrive Racing cars on the Sandown podium thanks to drama in front and maturity on their half. Owen was consistent in the first stint, though unfortunately given a five-second pit stop penalty for escorting Luke Youlden off the road (Ash Walsh made the same move on Garry Jacobson later but was not penalised). Mostert’s drive showed maturity which is arguably something he lacked two seasons ago when he placed second in the same race. Despite effectively being out of the Championship running, he has vowed to push hard for the rest of the year, potentially making Bathurst, a track of mixed emotions for the young gun, a place to secure another major win.
- Red Bull Racing Australia need to go soul searching in the next few weeks if they really want to win their eighth driver’s championship title. After getting both of their cars in to good positions during the race, an aggressive strategy saw them suffer dramas. An average weekend for the combination of Shane van Gisbergen and Matt Campbell looked like everything would be sorted with a third place finish until the #97 Commodore suffered a puncture late in the race, giving away a podium finish. Van Gisbergen could only manage 16th, a result that effectively takes the defending champion out of title contention. This occurred after the Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell car cut a tyre in the lead, dropping them down the order. While the #88 was able to fight back to sixth, Whincup dropped points to McLaughlin in the championship race, and will need to shake the demons of his past at Bathurst this year.
- Brad Jones Racing We often use the phrase ‘that was a weekend to forget’ but BJR might of been better not turning up at Sandown at all! Todd Hazelwood is perhaps the luckiest man who stepped in to a race car this weekend as he was able to walk away from one of the biggest Supercars crashes in years. In the first qualifying race, a hair-brain move from Tekno Autosport co-driver Jonathon Webb sent both cars in to the tyre barrier at turn six. Going in backwards, Hazelwood’s #4 Brad Jones Racing Commodore flipped through a series of barrel rolls, shredding the BJR Commodore apart. Ruled out for the weekend, the team have been left to assess if there is anything salvageable from the chassis. The data recorded his car went from 185km/h to a dead stop in 0.6 seconds, something which he may not have walked away from a number of years ago. However, the future star of Supercars showed great mental strength after getting the all clear from the medical centre to jump straight into his development series drive to come third in the Super2 race, not wanting to let his points lead slip away. While the #21 was out of commission for the weekend, Webb’s Tekno car was able to be repaired though a $15k fine was issued by the stewards for the reigning Bathurst champion’s role in the crash. Hazelwood has quickly become a firm fan favourite for his actions while Webb’s involvement has many scratching their heads as to how someone who only confirmed they’d be driving the week of the race can justify they are in good form.
To make matters worse, the Tim Slade/ Ash Walsh entry was stripped of its ninth place finish in the main race after officials deemed the entry breached the driving time regulations. The regulations state drivers must complete a minimum of 54 laps (1/3 of the scheduled race distance) and minimum resting time of the same period and drivers must not complete more than two thirds of the race distance. Walsh started the race with Slade taking over for the final stint on lap 85. However with a time certain finish following an opening lap crash which saw the race suspended for an hour, Slade only completed 39 laps and Walsh spent just 40 of the scheduled 161 laps ‘resting’.
But it didn’t end there for the Albury based team. After losing several laps sat in the garage due to a vibration issue, its #22 Nick Percat/Macauley Jones entry was the last of the classified finishers in 23rd. Definitely, a write off for the team in more ways than one!
- Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport‘s position as the perpetual tail-end Charlies was well and truly cemented this weekend with the team cracking under the added pressure of an extended race. It was one of their cars, the #3 entry of Aaren Russell and Taz Douglas, which brought out the red flag for an hour at the start of the race after making heavy contact with the tyre wall at turn six. This left the sole entry of Alex Rullo and Alex Davison in the #62 car for the rest of the race. A bungled pit stop saw the car dropped with the right rear wheel not secured and despite the team jacking the car up to put it on properly, the wheel dislodged itself on the first lap back on track. This earned LDM a $5000 fine, 30 teams championship points and in-race penalties for the #62, though the team retired the car with only 43 laps completed. Next year can’t come soon enough if rumours of a switch from the Commodore to the Falcon take shape.
Next up is the big one; the Great Race at Mount Panorama. 161 laps of the 6.213km long Mount Panorama circuit will see who is crowned this year’s Bathurst 1000 champion. Will Whincup be able to put aside the heartbreak of previous years? Can McLaughlin win his first endurance race? Who else can get between the title contenders?
All will be revealed when the teams start up at the Mountain. The Bathurst 1000 will be run from the 5th to the 8th of October.