Thanks to timezones and some weird perception on the part of V8 Supercars Australia that journeying once a year to a little used, but palatial race circuit in the middle of no-where is going to help promote the sport’s image at home, I’ve just watched Race One of Round Twelve.
It was telecast last night at 11:20pm AEST, and avid fan that I am, there’s no way I’m sitting up until the wee hours to watch my sport broadcast from half-way around the globe. Corporate machinations of VESCA aside, the vision was great and the racing terrific as usual. I can say that with an element of pride because ‘my team’ won the day. Team Vodafone/Triple Eight Racing came home 1-2 in an event which was always going to belong to at least car 88. Jamie Whincup started on pole, with the sister car, 888 alongside & one back, as the staggered F1 grid positioning determines, They were followed by Todd Kelly (Jack Daniels Racing), Steven Johnson (Jim Beam Racing), Garth Tander (HRT), Will Davison (Jim Beam Racing), Russell Ingall (Supercheap Auto), Steven Richards (Ford Performance Racing), Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing) and James Courtney (Stone Brothers Racing) filled out the top ten.
Magnificent to see both DJR Fords in the first ten, especially so after one of the hardest years in this sport financially. Disappointing to see Tander and Winterbottom so far back, but as is usually the case, both suffered from lack of grip during practice & qualifying, unable to come to terms with what is a very artificial track. As Neil Crompton informed us at the beginning of the telecast, after each days racing the track is "chemically swept", whatever that means, although his explanation outlined a process whereby the asphalt or hotmix which usually holds the blue-metal together is being degraded and swept away from the pebbles of the track surface, leaving a somewhat cobble-like surface which isn’t even or flat. I imagine such a surface would be akin to racing on a tiled floor without grout, and hard on tyres at the same time.
Race one started predictably with the top five or six clearing out, leaving the remainder of the field tangling with each other at the first corner. Nothing serious transpired, but both Vodafone cars made a good fist of the start. As early as lap 2, dills-on-parade made an appearance, with Mark Skaife being involved in a mid-field fracas, yet again, turning the #2 HRT Commodore around and damaging it fatally for the race. As might be imagined, Skaife was less than impressed, elder statesman of the sport that he is these days. By one third distance though, the whole picture changed mid-field. Michael Patrice in the Ford Rising Stars Falcon suffered a little brain fade, causing several other cars to come together sufficiently to instigate a safety car period. The ‘scrambling’ of the safety car was badly delayed by race control, resulting in it exiting pitlane too late to catch the lead cars, which included Todd Kelly in the #7 Jack Daniels Commodore. Kelly was heavily under brakes entering turn 1 as the safety car joined the track proper, and as anyone would expect, rounded up the safety car, leaving it in front of Garth Tander in car #1. Effectively, an advantage in track position to the first three cars, 88, 888 and 7. The proverbial hit the quickly rotating air-stirrer, and the safety car was ordered to allow the field through a lap later, pulling out in front of car 88, as it should have in the beginning.
Then we saw what has to have been the administrative cock-up of the season. Todd Kelly, in the Jack Daniel’s car #7, was black flagged for having passed the safety car! A drive down pit lane later and Kelly put the car away for the day in absolute disgust at having his race destroyed by blatant ignorance and officialdom. Can’t say I blame him or his boss, Larry Perkins, one iota. It has to be the worst example of poor management I’ve seen in the sport for quite a while. How hard can it be to order the safety car to pull out in front of the race leader? Larry Perkins didn’t miss the sport’s administrators though. I found myself wondering whether his spray, as justified as it was, would attract a fiscal penance.
At around three-quarter distance, down the field, we saw Mark Winterbottom out-brake himself into turn one and punt the right-rear quarter of Tander’s car, spinning him around, leaving him dead last as the field went by. Winterbottom escaped lightly, but was awarded a pitlane drive through a few laps later for his trouble. This left both championship contenders well and truly out of the major points for race one, and severely damages Winterbottom’s chances. Amusingly, and frankly, not at all unsurprisingly, Tander had words about the hit. It’s obviously stressful at the top end of the points table at this time of year. Clearly, judging by the telecast and posture of the drivers involved when interviewed, there’s little love lost between Winterbottom & Tander. I’d have called it a racing incident. No deliberate intent was involved. Tander was midfield at the time and wound up finishing 14th, while Winterbottom had to cop position 21 at flag fall. To my mind, yet another example of the inconsistency the sport really needs to address before 2009. As for Tander…it’s sour grapes. He’s done much the same to other drivers in his time. In fact the whinge he has about Todd Kelly and Craig Lowndes in the linked article smacks of some flawed belief that because he’s 2007 champion, he’s above the rest. When cars rub & bump under full speed racing pressure, it takes more than one driver’s involvement. From what was shown, Tander elbowed Lowndes, who elbowed back. Todd Kelly was in the mix on that first lap, and was very, very aggressive but professionally so in my view. Frankly, if Tander can’t stand the heat, then he ought to get the fuck out of the kitchen.
Overall, another great win for Jamie Whincup and Team Vodafone. After their round at Bahrain last year, race one was due recompense in my book. Tonight’s and Sunday’s event should prove interesting, judging by the bruised egos in pitlane.