This long weekend saw the V8 circus return to Eastern Creek, outside of Sydney, for the first time since 2005.
The absence of racing on the Eastern Creek circuit for the top teams certainly showed itself during qualifying. Many of the favoured runners didn’t make it past the first session cut. Lowndes, for example, started off position 16 after qualifying was all said and run. The track was an absolute mess following the heavy rains experienced on the central NSW coast on Friday-Saturday. Eastern Creek drains well, but in the case of the water which fell from the heavens, probably too well. Rivers of water streamed across the track and the off-track verges were simply quagmires just waiting to trap the unwary driver who slipped off. Practice on Saturday was a nothing affair with everyone tippy-toeing around, learning practically nothing.
Qualifying wasn’t a whole lot better on Sunday. The track had been washed clean of rubber and while the track looked dry, it was still damp and didn’t grip like a bone dry, warm track does. Oh yes, the bitumen was anything but warm. On the overcast day it was flat out making 25 degrees C. Here’s the qualifying roundup:
Pretty much a HRT / Toll-HSV affair. The fastest of the Fords being Jamie Whincup in car 88 for Triple Eight Racing. Noticeably, all four of the top holden teams cars ran very low ride height in the rear in a bid to get best possible grip from suspension and aero packages. So low in fact that Both Todd Kelly and his brother, current champion Rick, were exhibiting smoke from the right rears as the car loaded up on left-hand corners. At eastern Creek, that’s just about 85% of the track. Turns out though, that Rick Kelly’s smoke wasn’t entirely rubber, as discovered by one of the FPR Falcons. Mark Winterbottom complained that the track was slippery in a few places and the smoke from car #1 just happened to be almost constant by half way through. Was it oil? Well, turns out that it was, but we didn’t find out until Monday just before Race 2. Commentary noted that on Saturday, the Kelly car had an differential oil cooler problem and postulated that perhaps it had recurred. Correct, Neil Crompton. And it had been leaking all over the track, which normally would have incurred Rick Kelly a mechanical black flag. Call me cynical, but if you’re a level one team, and closely aligned with Holden, does that mean you get the odd blind eye from the prosecuting officer?
Anyway, a safety car at Lap 27 stole away Mark Skaife’s enormous lead, causing all cars to bunch up for a four lap sprint to the end. Skaife and Jamie Whincup went at it hammer and tong but HRT’s brand new VE dunny-door was just too quick. Skaife’s first race win of the season and if memory serves, the first since the depths of 2006 as well. Here’s the placings:
Monday dawned bright and warm, the track well suited for racing after Sunday. Track temp for the start of Race 2 exceeded 28 degrees and climbed as the day aged. All boded well for some good racing. The start was a dubious one from this writers perspective, with Skaife visually creeping forward on the line. The camera shot zoomed back and whether Skaife caught the creep just before the lights went out, or not, I couldn’t tell, but for some seconds there, it looked like he’d jumped the start.
If he did, the stewards didn’t pick up on it. Skaife ran from go to whoa at the front of the pack, compulsory pitstops not withstanding. Racing was good, for a change. Eastern Creek flows as a racetrack. This was no more evident than up the front end of the pack where Skaife, Rick Kelly, Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes and Todd Kelly ran nose to tail following two safety cars for Owen Kelly’s(no relation) dead car and Shane Price who was turned around into the fence at turn 9. As with Race 1, the last three or four laps were the best of the whole 31. Close, fast and daring. The order didn’t change, but one slip by any of those five and it could have changed dramatically. I guess when you run with the best, you don’t often make mistakes. Here’s the wash-up:
The weather at the Creek, as we saw during the Performance Car race screened by Seven between races 2 & 3, was sparklingly clear and bright. Winter is a good time for motorsport, with the cooler weather aiding both vehicles and drivers. TEGA actually had the racing brought forward by 30 minutes to allow for potential rain and an early sunset in order for both races to run to their full conclusion. Race two was re-programmed to start at 11.40am with the third and final race starting at 3.40pm. Sadly, both races today were recorded. Y’know, it’d be a real shame if the motorsport telecast had started with live racing at 11:30am instead of recorded vision 1:00pm. We’d all have missed the re-run repeat of Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd in the 1980’s ’Moonlighting’, not to forget the standard Monday arvo broadcast of ’Deal or No Deal’. Bored housewives would have been slitting wrists across the country. Thank you, Channel Seven. You’ve saved a few lives today, I’m certain.
Mark Skaife stood to take out the rather nebulous title of most rounds won in Australian V8 Supercar racing this weekend, by exceeding Peter Brock’s 38 wins in a championship. I say nebulous because Brock’s wins were achieved during a much earlier age, when cars were cars, not scientifically designed and balanced rocketships, and racing was conducted under an entirely different set of championship rules on completely different racetracks. But, when you’re driving the red HRT cars, any chance to invoke the ghost of Peter Brock, even if you’re putting it into the shade (boom-boom!) is better than no chance at all.
By the time Race 3 rolled around, weather had changed so dramatically that you’d have thought the broadcast was from two different weeks, let alone days. A brief shower between races had set the cat among the flock of featheries and Race 3 began with some teams being very tentative about tyre choice. The race started like a bomb exploding. Skaife was blown into the weeds by Rick Kelly who was closely followed by a hard charging Lowndes into second spot. The pace didn’t last long, however, as Owen Kelly (no relation) stepped off the track and wound up taking out Jason Richards and Garth Tander, instigating a safety car period. By Lap 4, it was back on again and this time the action never let up until the checkered fell on lap 31. After the Compulsory Pit Stops, the order was Todd Kelly, Lowndes, Skaife, Whincup and Rick Kelly. By this time, the clouds had decided to part and let a weakening Sun through as some kind of consolation for all the fans who turned up to watch some extraordinarily good racing. The Rick Kelly was far enough adrift of Whincup to not pose a problem, but the top four were like a train. Whincup challenged Skaife, Skaife threatened Lowndes and Lowndes monstered Todd Kelly for something like 13 laps of high speed, no holds barred real V8 motor racing. If you missed it, then bad luck, because you missed a real show. The sport was on display this afternoon at Eastern Creek and what a display it was.
Race 3 ended in that order. It was highly unlikely that any of the four could have challenged the car in front without creating a fracas for the other three. Clearly, all four drivers know their stuff, the track and their cars not to mention the etiquette of door-to-door V8 motorsport at the highest levels. I cannot write effusively enough of the display of professionalism at Eastern Creek today.
Now, it’s on to Round 6 at Darwin’s Hidden Valley track in under two weeks time. The wash-up of the point standings looks like this:
Just short of the half way point in this years championship, and I have a sneaking feeling that Rick Kelly already has this one sown up.