Jamie Whincup has catapulted back into championship contention after taking the win in a chaotic opening race at the Castrol Townsville 500.
Whincup’s sixth race win of the season and fourth consecutive podium moves the five-time champion to second in the drivers’ standings after a dominant run in Race 20. Getting to the top step of the podium would prove to be no easy task for the defending champion who secured his 81st career victory after starting back in the tenth position.
“As you know, there was massive action in the start there,” Whincup said. “I managed to keep it clean and come through. I don’t think we’ll be that lucky in the next one, I’m starting back in 10th again. A great start to the weekend but there’s still one more to go.”
Lap 1 provided plenty of fireworks as Holden Racing Team team-mates, James Courtney and Garth Tander starting from one and two on the grid, fought hard heading into Turn 2.
Courtney led through the Turn 1 kink, but it was Scott McLaughlin (Valvoline Racing GRM) who swept into the lead at the second turn after Craig Lowndes (Red Bull Racing Australia) made contact with Tander’s back bumper shoving the 2007 champion into Courtney, who ran wide and lost the lead to the Volvo.
The action didn’t stop there as Courtney lightly clipped the wall while pursuing McLaughlin at Turn 3. As the leaders slowed to make the 11th corner of the circuit, Lowndes again made contact with an HRT car tangling with Courtney, before being spun by Will Davison (Erebus Motorsport) into the Turn 12 exit wall and having to retreat to his garage to make repairs to his car.
The contact continued even further back in the field two laps later as the Wilson Security Racing teammates, Scott Pye and David Wall, came into contact with one another while fighting for position well down the field.
Lap 5 saw another incident as Shane van Gisbergen (Team Tekno VIP Petfoods) got into the back of Jason Bright (Team BOC) heading into Turn 13. Bright in turn then sent Tander’s HRT machine around. Tander would be able to quickly recover and rocket away with his top-10 position intact.
Laps 6 and 7 sent most of the field down pit road to fill up on fuel for their lone service of the race. Whincup’s crew would be able to complete their service quick enough to get their driver out ahead of McLaughlin under green-flag conditions. The quick stop by the #1 crew would prove to be the winning move of the race.
Lowndes brought out the first safety car of the race after returning to the track on Lap 12. As the #888 Commodore came back up to speed, the car failed to turn in Turn 5 and his car went straight off into the tyre barrier at nearly 170 kilometers-per-hour.
As the safety car retreated down pit road, Whincup launched away from McLaughlin and Davison to a comfortable lead on Lap 15.
Shortly after the restart, Jack Perkins (Team JELD-WEN) then came into contact with a Wilson Security Racing car and would take a brief off-track excursion, kissing a tyre barrier with the left side of his car in the process.
Tim Slade (Supercheap Auto Racing) ran into technical issues on Lap 27 as broadcast cameras would show the #47 Commodore dropping spots left and right to his competition. The team ordered Slade to his garage so they could diagnose and fix the issue. Slade stated after the race that it felt as if he had lost control of his car as his steering column would be unresponsive at times.
The second safety car period of the day came out on Lap 31 after Perkins and Todd Kelly (Jack Daniel’s Racing) battled for position through Turns 2 and 3. Perkins lightly got into the right side of Kelly off of Turn 3 and took the position over the Nissan driver, but Kelly then got into the right rear of the #18 Falcon and drove the 27-year-old from straight into the wall. The incident is currently under review by the stewards.
Once the action got back underway on Lap 35, Whincup would again rocket out from the field – this time ahead of McLaughlin and a rebounding Tander. Tander quickly took second from McLaughlin on the same lap as the young Kiwi then came into contact with Davison and would lose four spots after the accidental contact.
As the field continued to jostle around behind him, Whincup powered away from the competition and went on to cross the finish line with a comfortable two-second lead.
Race 20 Top Ten – Townsville 500
1. 1 – Jamie Whincup – Holden – Red Bull Racing Australia
2. 2 – Garth Tander – Holden – Holden Racing Team
3. 9 – Will Davison – Mercedes-Benz – Erebus Motorsport
4. 222 – Nick Percat – Holden – Walkinshaw Racing
5. 97 – Shane van Gisbergen – Holden – Team Tekno VIP Petfoods
6. 33 – Scott McLaughlin – Volvo – Valvoline Racing GRM
7. 8 – Jason Bright – Holden – Team BOC
8. 22 – James Courtney – Holden – Holden Racing Team
9. 55 – David Reynolds – Ford – The Bottle-O Racing Team
10. 36 – Michael Caruso – Nissan – Norton Hornets