As the lead-up race to Bathurst never is, today’s Just Cars 500 wasn’t boring. It was, however, revealing.
Team Red, otherwise known as the Holden Racing team, just wasn’t a real show after half-way, given that Mark Skaife developed appendicitis late in the week, and Todd Kelly was suffering from a severe gastroenteritis bout. Even though surgery methods have come a long way since yours truly had his colonic dead-end removed some 37 years ago, Skaife wasn’t likely to be sitting behind the wheel of Car 2 today. His place was taken by Tony Longhurst, a ‘now-and-then’ driver and former HRT punter. Longhurst is a little old these days, but he puts a good foot forward. He was joined by the redoubtable Glen Seton, who inside news has it, is creating quite some disruptions in the GMAC/D’Alberto team which competes in the Fujitsu series championship. Apparently Seton, who was contracted as mentor to Tony D`Alberto, is keen to re-organise the entire team structure, which doesn’t sit well with current team management/ownership. Todd Kelly did a sterling job, given that he’d been on an intravenous drip before and during the race. With the lead driver not feeling 100%, it’s hardly surprising they eventually finished nineth, which is still commendable given the circumstances.
DJR, or as they’re known these days, Jim Beam Racing, had a horror day despite a good practice & qualifying session. As early as Lap 15, Car 17 with Steven Johnson aboard, started to drift backwards through the field. Four laps later, it was in the team garage, where it was discovered that the front brake pads had seized onto the rotors. You might think this would be relatively easily resolved, touring cars being the spaceships they are now, but apparently the offending failed part – a pressure relief knock-off valve – is situated behind the engine and all but unreachable in anything but a workshop configuration. Car 17 came back out & ran 4 laps later in the race, but wasn’t destined to do anything worthwhile. Car 18, with Will Davison’s elder brother Alex aboard, expired on lap 140, which bears out my lack of faith in the DJR establishment. Whatever magic there once was, I believe, deserted DJR when Dick Johnson retired.
The pole winning car – #5 piloted by Mark Winterbottom for Ford Performance Racing – lost its way at Lap 47 primarily due to strategy. An early pitstop – some ten laps before the rest of the herd – didn’t work out the way it was intended with Car 5 having to stop again later in the race when the real heat of battle had been joined. Strangely, FPR opted to change front brakes on the first stop, when the brake stop window wasn’t due to open for some 50 more laps. No rules were broken, as teams can change brake pads as often as they wish, as long as the required two compulsory stops are made. One for four tyres, the other for fuel/brakes. Even stranger, FPR again changed pads just after half-way. It’s a shame, because FPR clearly have the technology down pat now. Car five was a good tenth of a second quicker than most competitors in qualifying & Top-Ten, with this being due mainly to car setup and handling. In three weeks time, FPR will be a force to be reckoned with.
The days plaudits just have to go the the eventual winners in Car 888 – Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup – for Triple Eight Racing, or as they prefer to be known now, Team Vodafone. Following a safety car incident on lap 60 when Jason Bright decided to skip the light fantastic through the kitty-litter at the end of pit straight, car 888 moved into the lead and was never headed again, despite a second compulsory pitstop. Whether it came down to team strategy involving driver changes and/or pitstops, I can’t really say, however the drive by Whincup and Lowndes was masterful by any definition. This is the key to endurance race wins. Both drivers being able to equal or better the efforts of their co-driver.
I have to admit that I expected the two compulsory pitstops not to play a major part in the overall race result. I was wrong to assume so. While an endurance race is not won or lost in the pits, the compulsory stop(s) do play a part, especially when one takes into account the completely random factor of a safety car period. It’s important to stay on the lead lap, clearly, and to stay close to the pointy end of the field on that lead lap. What didn’t seem to be evident this year, and in hindsight for a few years now, is mechanical failure. The current breed of V8’s are being built much, much stronger and more reliable, throwing the lynch-pin factor more heavily onto the CPS and driver fitness/mindset/ability. Far be it from me to identify weaknesses, but I simply can’t help but draw attention to the fact that Team Vodafone had their two best drivers in the teams primary car. The nearest competitor and eventual second place holder – Toll HSV Dealer Team car 1 – was piloted by current championship holder Rick Kelly and older punter, Paul Radisich. Don’t get me wrong, Radisich is a great driver, but also older, slower and not a usual part of Toll HSV. The drive to win may not be there to the same extent as the Lowndes-Whincup pairing. Similarly, the Toll second car of Garth Tander and Craig Baird matches a younger, hungrier pilot with an older, part-time co-driver. I’d suggest they’d both be a lot better off, race-wise and championship point-wise if both Tander and Kelly were paired in the best car the team can provide. If that circumstance arises in the next three weeks, between now & the next round at the Mountain, then I’d back Toll HSV to take out that race. If not, then I’ll stick with car 888 and the Lowndes-Whincup pairing.
Here’s the points table after today. As you can see, it’s really down to two teams. Toll HSV and Team Vodafone. If Toll HSV don’t put Kelly and Tander together in the one car after today, then all I can say is more fool them.
And as they say on the commentary, the Mountain calls. The high-point of the domestic touring car motorsport season and an event for motorsport addicts, partially addicted and once-a-year seat warmers to partake of. Yet again, sadly, I’m unable to make the pilgrimage. I’m taking my 25th raincheck and look forward to next year. However, I will be posting updates, especially on the Autobarn Racing entry of Steve Owen and Tony D`Alberto, as the time to race week evaporates before us.
While I think about it, congrats and commiserations to Ashley Walsh for his performance in the Formula Ford supports. Well done, young fella, and no, it didn’t look that bad on TV. Clearly the altercation between yourself and Tim Blanchard was a racing incident. It seems that whenever a leading driver becomes in any way involved with another in even slightly contentious circumstances, it’s easier for the stewards to penalise than it is to act commercially and ignore. Inconsistency seemed to be the order of the day, yesterday, if the tourers were anything to go by.
Summary of Ash’s performance follows:
ASH Walsh dominated the weekend’s sixth round of the Australian Formula Ford Championship at Sandown Raceway and is within striking distance of the title lead.
The Queenslander has now narrowed the championship gap to arch-rival Tim Blanchard to just eight points after a controversial round at the Victorian circuit.
Walsh won Race 1 and 2, and was challenging Blanchard for the lead of Race 3 when the pair collided at Turn 11.
Walsh went on to win the race, but was penalised after the event for his part in the incident.
Walsh has appealed the penalty, which is likely to be resolved at Symmons Plains in November.
The CAMS Rising Star driver was frustrated by the incident (and its subsequent penalty), but vowed to continue to attack for the championship lead as it heads to its conclusion at Symmons Plains (Tasmania) and Phillip Island (Victoria).
But incident aside, Walsh proved at Sandown that he is the man with the momentum in the Formula Ford ranks, having won eight of the past nine races.
Race 1 was a tight affair. Blanchard’s series lead was cut down when he was involved in a controversial clash with Josh Scott. Walsh narrowly dodged the incident to take a close win.
Race 2 was a much more relaxed affair, with Walsh scooting away to a six second victory. The win was his eighth in-a-row – one of the longest streaks in the sport.
But before Walsh gets his winning-streak back on track, he will head to the United Kingdom to compete in two British Formula Ford races and the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch.
Enjoy the UK, Ash!