A Feisty Race for Grid Position Starts the Sandown 500

The 2012 Season of Endurance kicked off in Melbourne this weekend with the Dick Smith Sandown 500.

Dick Johnson Racing’s squad was bolstered with four local and international drivers joining the team for the next two races.

Allan Simonsen joins up with Steve Johnson in the #17 Falcon and Matt Halliday is paired with Dean Fiore in his #12 Falcon, both for Jim Beam Racing.  James Moffat’s partner, Alex Davison returns to the team for Team Norton DJR.  Steve Owen is joined once again by DJR Team Strategist, Paul Morris.

The day would be broken into 3 sessions, all of which would determine the grid position for the Endurance Race tomorrow.

The regular season drivers went out for this morning’s 20 minute qualifying session.  Steve Owen and the V.I.P. Petfoods Falcon was the highest placed DJR driver in 7th position, followed by Moffat in 11th, Fiore in 17th and Johnson in 18th.

The co-drivers jumped in for the first 20 Lap Qualifying Race.  Davison, Halliday and Simonsen had great starts but Morris was involved with a Turn 1 incident, resulting in a drive through penalty for the #49 co-driver.

With all the co-drivers looking to drive a straight race and bring home their charges in one piece, the race settled into a steady pace.  This changed on Lap 6, with Simonsen becoming the unfortunate victim of the Pepsi Max car, launching the #17 into the gravel and sending him to the back of the grid.  Neither Morris or Simonsen would be able to come back from these incidents.

The main series drivers started Qualifying Race 2, the battle for the grid, in 10th (Moffat), 15th (Fiore), 26th (Johnson) and 27th (Morris).

Johnson had a great start, making up 5 spots on the first Lap.  This set the tone for the rest of the race, with Johnson powering through the grid, making up 15 places.

Team Advisor, Dr Ryan Story commented, “Steve’s drive from P26 was superb.  We are really proud of his focus, and are confident we have good car set up for tomorrow’s 161 Laps.”

Johnson was also pleased with the way his race went, “We had a disappointing Qualifying and Race 1, and made changes during the break.  Starting at the back of the grid was tough, but a we had a clean race with no incidents. The car was better and we made up severals spots, from others dropping back, but also good passing on others.  I got hit a few times, but hung on and the car had genuine pace, which is great for tomorrow.”

James Moffat fought his way around the Sandown circuit, battling with several drivers for position during the 20 Lap race.

Dr Story also added, “James did a great job following a somewhat difficult start.  He settled into his rhythm, driving a mature and measured race.  He bought the #18 Team Norton DJR Falcon home in one piece, despite the intent of others in the field.  This bodes well for tomorrow, as the car is strong and will make for an interesting Sunday.”

Team Norton DJR pilot, James Moffat agreed, “Alex has done a great job this weekend.  But that race was more like a WWE fight than a 20 Lap race for grid position for 500kms tomorrow.  We have a reasonable start position for the race now but the car still needs some work, but if we can make these changes, we’ll go much better.”

Dean Fiore, was puzzled over the change in his #12 Jim Beam Falcon, “The car was totally unlike what we had for Qualifying.  But tomorrow is another day and it’s a long race.”

Steve Owen’s day got better during Qualifying Race 2, “We had a great qualifying session this morning.  But during the co-driver race, Paul wound up at the back of the grid – it was hard to pass and come back.  We did make up 5 great places but there is still a lot of work to do for tomorrow.   But after qualifying in 7th this morning, we’re confident of good car speed.”

Dick Johnson Racing will start the 500km, 161 Lap race at Sandown Raceway tomorrow from 11th (Moffat/Davison), 12th (Johnson/Simonsen), 21st (Fiore/Halliday) and 22nd (Owen/Morris).