Round 13 of the Australian Touring Car Championship – now known as the V8 Supercar Championship – was held today at Phillip Island. Subject to protest, it appears Rick Kelly driving for Team Toll-Holden Special Vehicles, has been crowned champion for 2006.
The race was a ‘no-quarter’ event with quite a lot of unsporting attitudes on display. Team Triple Eight Race Engineering fully intend lodging a protest over an incident in the opening lap of race three, in which Rick Kelly may or may not have deliberately collided with Championship competitor Craig Lowndes, punting Lowndes into Kelly’s own brother in the 22 Holden Dealer Team car, putting both off the track.
Lowndes managed to get back on track, however the car was terribly wounded, it’s steering so drastically altered as to require four more pitstops to replace the right-front tyre as the race progressed. Lowndes, as a result, finished the race in 29th place. Rick Kelly, even after a pitlane drive-through penalty for the driving infringement, finished 18th and as a result, wrapped up the championship. After all, even an 18th place earns enough points to beat 29th when you start the last race level pegging with your closest opponent, who happened to be Lowndes.
Two points your Bannerman would make about the championship from the perspective of today’s racing. Firstly, Rick Kelly deserves to be the champion for 2006. Bannerman seriously believes the incident which destroyed Lowndes’ chances of taking out the championship was no more than that. An incident. One of many which occur in the heat of competition at 200 kph amidst a gaggle of other cars and drivers who all want the same piece of road at the same moment. Indeed, there are rules to the game, however the Lowndes-Kelly incident happened at a critical point on the track where cars are inherently unbalanced. The slightest contact is sufficient to create havoc, and that is what occured. A slight contact. A racing incident.
Triple Eight will lodge a protest, and Bannerman believes it will be dismissed. Hopefully it will be, for the good of the sport. Secondly, on the subject of unsportsman-like behaviour, Bannerman feels strongly that the sport’s administrators need to take a seriously close look at the current rules and regulations governing driving tactics and strategy. Too often, and not just this 2006 season, drivers and teams have been subject to vagaries of the Driving Standards Observer and the Investigating and Prosecuting Officer from rulings which to those of us outside the sport, and even to those inside it, from all accounts, appear to be random and arbitrary. This must end in season 2007. It must end, but with balance, and therein lies the challenge for the sport’s administrators.
Congrats, Rick Kelly. Commiserations, Craig Lowndes. There’s always next year.