Domesticity decreed that I miss the start of the qualifying process for Round Six, but I did manage to catch the final ten minutes of the third session.
If there’s anything which marks this season so far, it’s the speed of the Holden Commodores from the top echelon teams of HRT and Toll/HSV. Also thus far, these vehicles, which all come out of the same workshops, have proved to be pretty much indestructible. What I saw of qualifying was very, very revealing in that the top Holdens and top Fords are all really close to each other in the performance stakes. If anything, the Holdens have a slight edge in handling which gives them the lap times to put them up front. Noticeably it was the Holdens of Mark Skaife and Rick Kelly who were swapping pole position times over the last few minutes. The other eight cars were effectively also-rans. Of the Fords, the standout was Will Davison – Car 18 – for Dick Johnson Racing. Here’s the qualifying breakdown after the three round-robin sessions.
Lap 1 of 42 saw the first full course yellow of the weekend, due to an altercation between Jason Bargwanna for WPS Racing and Will Davison for DJR on turn 4. Naturally, that early in the race the field was fairly well packed and while Davison got away with his indiscretion, Bargwanna, Jason Bright and Russell Ingall didn’t. In fact, Ingall during an interview several minutes later on indicated that the circuses so-called ‘young guns’ had better watch out tomorrow.
Mark Skaife and Rick Kelly managed to run off into the distance from the restart, leaving Todd Kelly, Craig Lowndes, Garth Tander and Jamie Whincup to dice for two thirds of the top ten placings. Stone Brothers aren’t having a particularly good year so far. James Courtney had a big ‘off’ yesterday which resulted in the car smacking an earth-backed tyre wall broadside on, then tripping over itself to land in it’s roof. The car which raced today was the same one with all external panels and glass replaced, but clearly the guts of the beast weren’t as well as they ought to have been. Courtney never really managed to get the thing to perform.
The racing between Todd Kelly and Lowndes (3 & 4) and Tander and Whincup (5 & 6) was exceptional stuff. Reminiscent of race three in Round Five at Eastern Creek. Really close, highly professional motorsport engaged between skilled drivers with the very best machinery in their hands. No paint swapped, just skillful driving and an absolute joy to watch. By lap 40, Whincup had sized Tander up and made a move which put him into position five while his team mate made a similar move on the last lap to put Todd Kelly behind him and third place into his hands. The conditions in Darwin were clearly better than Eastern Creek, even if only because the track was dry & warm. Weather was overcast, track temp 38 degrees, in-car temp 48 so reasonably comfortable for car & driver, while the overcast day provided enough vagaries to make the teams look for more from a hopefully fine day tomorrow. Positions from Race One were:
Races Two and Three tomorrow.