Wet day in Brisbane. Wet day in Sydney. Doesn’t really make for exciting racing, especially on a slow track like Oran Park, but when the weather’s lousy outside, what better way to occupy one’s Sunday arvo than in front of the box with a beer or three watching motorsport?
As usual, race one was on yesterday and under totally different conditions to those we saw today. Team Red managed to put in a good show, Skaife and Todd Kelly taking out the first two podium positions with Jamie Whincup in third. The next four positions were Fords – 2 FPR cars, Will Davison and Craig Lowndes. Pretty much good stuff for Ford, but completely unrelated to today’s events.
Race two conducted earlier today was through constant rain. Not heavy, but constant and definitely enough to warrant wet tyres. The wet sorted the wheat from the chaff, and created some situations where road skills weren’t at all evident. Jamie Whincup was taken out by a sliding Jason Bargwanna and Jason Richards although on wets, didn’t have a car setup to make the best of them, eventually wrecking his tyres and falling back through the field. Lowndes did well to come home first, three seconds in front of Todd Kelly, who was followed by a fast finishing Mark Winterbottom in the FPR car. Lee Holdsworth was the standout in race two, coming from position ten to position four in very wet conditions. A solid drive.
Race three was even stranger. In the two hours between races two & three, the rain held off and Oran Park virtually dried out. The field went out on its parade lap entirely on slick tyres, only to have the skies open again just as the lead cars came onto pit straight. By the time team managers, engineers and drivers realised just how heavy the rain was, the lead four or five cars had passed pit lane entry and were committed to starting on slicks. Those who were further back in the field had those extra few seconds to make the decision to duck into the pits, which resulted in more than 20 cars diving in, changing slicks for wets and starting race three from the pit lane after the cars on the track had all passed them.
Those who did start on slicks, like Rick Kelly and Will Davison, struggled for several laps on slicks before the compulsory pitstop window opened, then to dive in and change to wets thereby making their stop and taking on better tyres at the same time. Lowndes and Todd Kelly who both started at the head of the field on slicks, opted to duck in on lap two for wets, only to have to pit again later in the race to complete their compulsory stop. Luck, strategy, call it what you will, but circumstances and weather determined race winners today.
On lap 25 the safety car came out, but no-one seemed to know what for. Apparently Jason Bright slid off the track, but moments later the camera showed Bright steaming along pit straight. The safety car stayed out though and telescoped the field together, just as Craig Lowndes came back onto the track after completing his CPS which included a massive roll-centre change to the car’s geometry, seeking more downforce and drive from the suspension setup. Lee Holdsworth had led the race to that point in time, having started on wets and built up a huge time buffer between himself and second car, Russell Ingall and just completed his CPS before the Safety Car came out. With the field compressed again, Holdsworths buffer vanished and the competition would surely have been on once the WPS Safety Car peeled off. Would have been until Holdsworth’s team mate, Dean Canto, lost control of his Commodore at the end of pit straight, backing it into the sandtrap at close on 200 kph. Out came the yellow flags and Safety Car again, which meant that with racing being slow due to rain, and now two safety car periods, the race suddenly became a timed event. This, unfortunately, is what you get when television programming determines the structure of your sport.
On the restart, and before the completion of one lap, Skaife and Murphy tangled just coming off the Dunlop Bridge, putting Skaife off the track and into the sand, creating a third safety car period in almost as many laps. Again, the field compresses, jostling on the wet track takes place and another restart but at least this time it was reasonably clean and drama free. Until lap 41. Mark Winterbottom managed to slide the FPR Falcon off, into the sand on the climb up to pit straight with the time at 2:49pm and televised racing to end at 2:55pm. Surprisingly, two minutes later and we’re back racing again. Well, not exactly racing. More like racking up panel damage bills. Apparently the rules regarding biff and barge in the final laps have been relaxed. I’d suggest they were comatose.
But in the end, it was 24 year old Lee Holdsworth who led every lap of race three, in first place, followed by Garth Tander in the #16 Toll HSV Commodore, and Russell Ingall in the #9 Caltex Stone Brothers Falcon. Where were the rest of the favoured racers? Victims of circumstances, weather and brain fade. It’s amazing what a little water can do to a race meeting. A very hearty congratulations to Lee Holdsworth on what was a superb exhibition of car craft in very adverse conditions. Well done Garry Rogers in yet again nurturing outstanding young talent in Australia’s premier motorsport category.
Here’s the final championship points placings following today’s bath at Oran Park.
Next round is the start of the endurance races which are considered the highlights of the V8 calendar. The Just Car Insurance 500 at Sandown, Melbourne over the weekend 14-16 September (important weekend that one. someone I know turns 50) and then the season’s big event at Mt.Panorama, Bathurst 4-7 October. A glance at the points table tends to indicate that it’s either Tander or Rick Kelly who’ll take out this years championship, but experience says the next two events may hurl a feline into a bunch of cooing statue poopers. I’m still not writing off either Lowndes or Whincup.