Sunday raceday and the deciding two races for round thirteen.
Weather fine, slightly overcast and perfect for racing. Tander and Whincup on the front line and when the lights went out, Whincup had jumped way better that Tander. It was a sign. As with taking a mortgage as security when lending, there’s no better place than first and so it was with Whincup. On a small, tight track like Symons Plains, out the front is the way to go. Out of the push and shove of the pack, out of the heat behind cars in front. Brakes last longer, tyres work better and the car drives more efficiently.
From the moment the lights went out, Tander looked to be behind the eight ball. Turns out he’d damaged the clutch in the initial jump. He led the race briefly as the compulsory pit stops started, but when his turn came, a two second delay as the right rear locknut jammed in the rattle gun saw him re-enter the field in sixth position. Then the failing clutch took its toll as he found first gear instead of third at turn eight, to slide off the track barely avoiding capture in the gravel trap. Tander re-entered at P16 and fought back to tenth spot by race end, but the damage had been done. Whincup took race two with FPR’s Steven Richards close behind, then Mark Winterbottom, Mark Skaife, Rick Kelly & Craig Lowndes. Tander’s 31 point lead after race one had been whittled to 17. The championship remains wide open, at least among the top four drivers. For my money though, watch Ford Performance Racing in the opening rounds of next year. It’s patently clear that FPR have found the sweet spots in both of their cars, with drivers to match.
The real disappointment for Holden fans must surely be the performances of HRT. Admittedly, Skaife brought car 2 home in fourth spot for race two, but Todd Kelly was no-where to be seen and hasn’t been for quite a while now. Skaife’s position can only be put down to winning places in the pit stops, just as Tanders lost places was. Whatever happens to be the problem at HRT, it’s clear that car speed simply doesn’t exist. Championship standings after race two….
Race three started as race two finished, with Whincup and Richards on the front row, Skaife & Winterbottom on the second, Rick Kelly and Craig Lowndes on the third row. Interestingly Toll/HSV were quite concerned about Tander’s car having over-revved the gearbox during his mis-cue, and so changed the clutch and gearbox in that Commodore. Just quietly, the six-speed Hollinger gearbox, worth $20,000, will likely be cannibalised.
The race started cleanly with Whincup just managing to hold off a charging Richards from the go and all went well through to the first lot of CPS. Tander stayed out longer than most, and eventually managed to claw back several positions through that strategy as cars came & went into & out of the pits in varying times. From tenth at the start, Tander came back onto the track following his CPS in third. For mine, this is a huge point of contention in that passing is not happening on the track, but in the pits. On lap 24, Rick Kelly’s car destroyed an engine, putting him out of the race and possibly the series. Kelly’s retirement also brought out the safety car, bringing the field into a bunch again.
Toll/HSV team’s weekend then proceeded to head right round the S-bend when less than 8 laps from the restart, Tander and Steven Richards touched twice at the hairpin, leaving car 16 with terminal steering damage and unable to cope with turns seven and eight at the end of the fast sweeper. Tander shot straight across the corner at turn eight, amazingly missing the oncoming race cars, skated across the dirt and gravel traps to eventually crab the crippled car into the mouth of pit lane where it nosed up against the armco. The Tander ’off’ seemed to spark a five car tangle on turn eight probably due to the huge cloud of dust thrown up, leaving at least three cars stranded and bringing out the safety car again.
From the re-start, with seven laps to run, the order was never likely to change from Whincup, Steven Richards, Jason Richards (courtesy of the turn eight tangle), Skaife, Lowndes, Courtney, Winterbottom, Steven Johnson, Jason Bright and Dean Canto. Ford Performance Racing succeeded in having both of their drivers on the podium for the round, with Whincup taking out the round win. Always good to see Steven Johnson come home strongly, and James Courtney finish well, despite a sad start to the weekend thanks to qualifying and race one, yesterday.