Sunday, and finals day for the V8 Supercar circus.
Race two and we might have been looking at some bash and barge, but it wasn’t to be. Those who had a vested interest – Messrs Tander, Whincup and Lowndes – together with Skaife, Todd Kelly, Mark Winterbottom all played it so very, very carefully. There were a couple of tentative moments in the first five laps on cold tyres and brakes, but once the CPS started, the real order came into play. Skaife lost the race lead he’d held for the first five and once the stops were over, the order wound up being Tander, Todd Kelly, Whincup, Skaife, Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom. That’s how they finished and apart from Mark Skaife being pinged for deliberately blocking Craig Lowndes, virtually nothing undue happened. It was fairly clear that from around lap 20 Skaife had been making his new Commodore as wide as possible, while Lowndes and his pits worked on the officials to have Skaife warned off for unsportsman-like behaviour. Unfortunately, and in line with the terrible consistency race stewards have shown in enforcing the rules all year, finally brought out the bad sportsmanship flag on lap 25, just three laps from the end, and less than one lap before blocking per se becomes allowable.
Garth Tander took the win and a seven point lead over his nearest challenger, Jamie Whincup. No-one else was in it at that stage. As this formula usually decrees at this point in the championship, the deciding event is the last round and the deciding race comes down to the very last one of the season.
Race three was almost a carbon copy of race two, at least up to lap 11 when Tander pitted. Whincup had pitted on lap 6 and while it was postulated that Toll/HSV were going to bring Tander in at the same moment Team Vodafone brought in Whincup, those thoughts didn’t pan out. Tander stayed out four laps longer on lesser rubber than Whincup had, his lap times suffering accordingly. When Tander emerged from the pitlane with two fresh rears, he slotted into a conga line between Whincup and Lowndes with Todd Kelly leading some 1.8 seconds in front.
Todd Kelly’s tyres slowly went to lunch over the last ten laps of the race while Whincup, Tander and Lowndes, driving as if all three were locked together at 200kph, gradually reeled him in. And then there were four. That’s how it seemed as the television coverage concentrated only on the lead four cars. With three laps to go, Lowndes forced a corner from Tander which may well be subject to the driving standards officer’s scrutiny, and while Tander exploded over the radio to his pit, no-one there was concerned. They’d already done the sums. While-ever Todd Kelly managed to hold onto the race lead and keep that 24 points from Whincup, Garth Tander and Toll/HSV would take away the 2007 championship. And so it was.
I’ve not seen a better display of high-speed touring car racing since I started taking an interest in the sport some 36 years ago. Despite the winning driver/team combination being Holden based, I’m pleased for Garth Tander who drove mightily and with restrained aggression throughout the season. Commiserations to Team Vodafone and Jamie Whincup, who also drove magnificently all season and for a young man of 24 years, shows extraordinary talent.
There was one quite revealing moment on the podium when Todd Kelly accepted the round win. He thanked his team at HRT for all the help and support ‘over the years’. Is this a hint that ‘Toddler’ is moving camps for 2008? Who knows. Who cares. For now at any rate. Time to recall the season gone and the fantastic racing from all parties concerned. Eleven weeks of reviewing the season’s video tapes before 21 February 2008 and it all starts again, in Adelaide.
See you then.