Qualifying and race one probably couldn’t have gone off any worse for some championship contenders.
Todd Kelly and Jack Daniels Racing weren’t among those wishing for a change of fortune. ‘Toddler’ as he’s called on the commentary, drove a masterful race in wet and deteriorating conditions which started at lights out and continued for the whole of race one. But qualifying wasn’t without dramas either. Weather in Launceston today was bitterly cold. 10 degrees air temp, with a wind chill factor thrown in for good measure. Tyres wouldn’t come up to temp, which resulted in many drivers dancing a weave during the initial laps of the opening 15 minute qualifying session, while others wanted to get on with setting a pace. The result? Jamie Whincup almost being taken out entirely by Jack Perkins, as that driver continued to weave warmth into his tyres, as Whincup came thundering up behind at the beginning of a fast lap. Thankfully, the 88 Team Vodafone car avoided disaster by the grace of the generous Symmons Plains run-off areas, delicately executing a slow spin on wet grass as the car skated across a wide open area on the run down the the Hairpin.
Whincup wasn’t the only driver to almost fall foul of another driver’s inattention to the fact that all were out there to go fast. Thankfully, no-one failed to start because of another’s stupidity. All the while, through the three qualifying sessions, which on a small track like Symmons Plains seems to me to be a recipe for disaster while more than 15 cars are out trying for a fast lap, the weather slowly broke down. By the start of race one, light spots were appearing on windscreens. Whincup took the jump and pulled away from Tander, who two laps later and with warmer tyres, over took Whincup virtually without a fight. Clearly, it’s Jamie Whincup’s strategy from here on out to survive races, preferably in front of his nearest championship opponents. Steven Richards and Rick Kelly came together on the entry to the main straight, leaving Kelly without a right-rear door skin and Richards with broken front left suspension and a DNF for the day.
Tander’s lead didn’t last more than seven laps, as with weather breaking down, rain becoming persistently more….persistent, he lost the car at the Hairpin and found it locked in gear as he tried to re-start it. Meanwhile, the entire field trundled past before he managed to rock the car on its starter motor, find a gear and head off again. Compulsory Pit Stops took place, with all but a few opting for wets. Tander was one who stayed on slicks, with Both Supercheap Auto cars, McConville, Dumbrell, both Team BOC Holdens also staying on dry rubber. In light rainy conditions it’s always a gamble to switch to wets, but today the gamble paid off. Those on wets were a clear 3 to 4 seconds per lap quicker than those dancing on slicks.
With Tander’s demise, Whincup resumed the race lead, but was shortly overtaken by a fast closing Todd Kelly in Car 7 and challenged incessantly by Mark Winterbotton in the FPR Falcon close behind. On wets, the racing was close, but with a clearly defined drier line showing. Shane Van Gisbergen, a web-footed rain-master according to his team boss, and proven by his race style, while on wets was having to find a wet line on each lap to keep the softer ‘wet’ rubber from overheating. The rain was constant though, and while a drier line was evident, it wasn’t dry enough for those of slicks.
By lap 50, Todd Kelly had a clear two second gap over Whincup, Winterbottom, Will Davison and young Van Gisbergen. But for some lapped cars on the last three corners and poor flag marshalling, he’d have finished with that buffer, but a win is a win, regardless of the gap. It’s been a difficult year for Jack Daniels Racing, and for Todd Kelly. As an engineer/mechanic himself, struggling to produce a car that works, as he said, has been an eleven month battle. Clearly, today’s win meant a lot to him as he wiped a tear away at the end of the obligatory post-race interview. Who said race car drivers aren’t softies?
With Whincup reaping a net six points over Winterbottom today, and Tander coming home a lap down, the 2008 Championship is looking more and more like falling into the hands of Jamie Whincup and Team Vodafone. Two more races tomorrow though, and three at Oran Park in a fortnight’s time. Still not a foregone conclusion, but looking brighter all the while. Here’s three graphics which portray top ten qualifying, race one finishing ten and the points table after today.