Sep 142008
 

I’ve written what I wanted to write about Qualifying for this round yesterday, so let’s concentrate on the main event itself.

With all the disruptive hype from qualifying – two separate races for drivers ‘A’ and ‘B’ determining starting positions from accumulated points scored in both races – there is simply no-where that I’ve been able to find which lists the grid for today’s race. Of course, television knew and we were presented with the grid in the minutes before the lights went out, but for we fans, well….. Just don’t start me off on just where television should figure in the administration of motorsport.

Suffice to say Lowndes and Kelly on the front row led off from flag-fall, with the Lowndes/Whincup Falcon pulling up to a 15 second gap on the field before pitting as expected on lap 44 for fuel, tyres and a driver change to Jamie Whincup. The Lowndes drive was simply superb. The weather looked changeable, as was predicted, and decidedly cooler than Saturday qualifying. By the time Team Vodafone pitted and the race lead changed, no incidents of any real note had occurred, which is good for the viewer and participant alike.

At that point in the race, Car 6, the Castrol Falcon of Mark Winterbottom/Steven Richards assumed the race lead, having already pitted prior. On Lap 52 we saw Steven Johnson in car 18, someone I don’t put much of a wrap on, attack and take both Paul Radisich in the #15 HSV Commodore and David Besnard in the Stone Brother’s  #4 Falcon in the space of one lap. That put Johnson into a solid third spot and out after Jamie Whincup in the #888 Falcon. I don’t rate ‘Junior’ Johnson highly because I don’t believe he has the same talent as his old man, but I must admit to being proven wrong on this occasion. The moves placed on both opponent cars were simply masterful.

Noticeable was the lack of ‘fight’ the HRT #1 car – Tander & Skaife – had to oncoming competition. On lap 55 we saw Skaife give way to the BOC Gases Commodore of Cameron McConville/Brad Jones, with Jones at the wheel. Three laps later, we saw the Fujitsu Falcon of Jason Bright/Adam Macrow take the #1 HRT car, pushing it back to 12th position. Within ten more laps, they’d dropped to 14th. Clearly, HRT just aren’t in enduro mode. One wonder’s whether they’ll be able to get their act together before Bathurst.

A Safety Car period on lap 67 demanded all strategies be recalculated. The Autobarn Commodore #16 of Paul Dumbrell/David Reynolds blew an engine, leaving Reynolds stranded on the far side of a gravel trap. Team Vodafone car #888 immediately came to the pits to refuel and re-tyre, together with Stone Brothers #4 Falcon and a slew of lesser runners. Fatefully, Car #6 for FPR – Winterbottom/Richards, had just pitted during lap 67 and came out effectively in the lead.

On lap 71, showers started to fall and with the field bunched up courtesy of the safety period, everyone slowed. Team Vodafone car #888 pitted as the rain pelted down, took on wets and bolted back out. The dice had been rolled. Car #18 – DJR Racing – had a moment coming into turn #1, followed by FPR’s car #6, Rick Kelly in HSV’s #15 along with several other runners. Kelly’s ‘off’ was spectacular, coming straight off the main straight at full noise, but held it all together at speed across the gravel trap. The rain was heavy, but vanished as quickly as it came. Whincup on wets really made hay while the rain fell while everyone else went slip-sliding away. Forty-Three seconds was the gap between car #888 and car #6 as the sun came back out and the track started to drain. Would the gamble on wets pay off, or would a penalty be paid by pitting and changing back to slicks once a dry line appeared. Meanwhile, Car #6, on slicks still, began to take the upper hand tactically.

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Then the cards were thrown into the air again as car #12 – Andrew Jones for Team BOC – left the track at turn three and rolled twice, coming to rest upright, but destroyed. All margins vanished as the safety car came back out. Car #888 was already in pitlane as car #12 rolled. Wets were exchanged for slicks, fuel topped off and back out again. At the same time, Car #1, HRT with Tander aboard, also changed wets to slicks and came back out in sixth place. It’s amazing how a little water can change the complexity of a race. The race re-started on lap 87 with Shane Van Gisbergen in car #9 (Stone Brothers) in the lead, but still on wets. The track was clearly showing a dry line, but passing was going to be a challenge on slick tyres.

On lap 87 another safety car period eventuated as one of the Garry Rogers Motorsport Commodores had an off, but managed to recover and continue on. However, the safety car was already out, so yet again, the field compacted. Van Gisbergen pitted to ditch the wets but surrendered the lead in the process. Unavoidable but necessary. This left the Lowndes/Whincup car #888 in the lead and surprise, surprise…car #1 – Tander/Skaife – in second place!!! What was it I wrote about not being in enduro mode? The Will Davison/Steven Johnson Falcon #18 was in third, which boded well for a thrilling finish.

Thanks to television sponsor commitments, we missed yet another safety car incident, returning to the action on lap #99. Apparently the incident left Tony D`Alberto under medical attention and with a wrecked car. That interruption, which we missed (thanks heaps, Channel Seven!) left Tander right on the heels of Whincup with 12 laps to go. No other runners could get close enough to challenge. With ten laps to go, Tander applied pressure to Whincup and succeeded in forcing an error, which let Tander past. Three seconds was the gap by the time Whincup recovered and charged on. From that point forward, and Whincup able only to pare back tenths of a second, it was inevitable that Team ‘Red’ would take out a win. My plaudits though, go to Dick Johnson Racing and car #18, Davison and Johnson, for bringing home their mount in third spot. Their race was far from easy, as if anyone’s was, but they battled hard. With the intervention of rain, all strategies were nullified and sheer luck really did come into play, and while I’m a self-confessed and ardent Ford fan, I’ll be the first to admit that luck and timing played an enormous part in Team Vodafone’s second spot. Likewise with team ‘Red’, who but for the brief but decisive downpour and some lucky dice rolls, safety car periods and a good display of pressure driving by Tander, may not have been the stars of the day. Surely, the L&H 500, while far from indicative as a benchmark for Bathurst, will become an exciting part of the championship if it’s to be run at the same time and format in coming years. Here’s the championship points standings after today’s event.

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Before I end this post, I’m going to have a bleat. Not about the motorsport, because what we saw was fantastic. I want to vent about how we saw what we saw. In the last 15 or so laps, Channel Seven went to ad breaks four times. At one point during the final ten laps, the break was longer than three minutes. I know because I clocked it. Very close to four minutes in fact. Right when the action was most intense, Seven went to a break and we missed entirely a safety car period and the incident which caused it. Not that I’m interested in seeing the prangs because for me the racing is far more important, however, under conditions which today’s race was run, every happening has an impact on the race
. Missing a safety car period during the final stages of a race for the sake of commercials, in my view, is abominable programming. I know it’s far too much to expect, but I do hope the same poor programming doesn’t carry through to the Big Race in a month’s time. Surely not even Channel Seven can fuck up a race finish at Bathurst?