As usually happens in Darwin, the racing was as hot as the ambient temperature. Surprisingly free of major stupidity though, which is refreshing. Save for Paul Morris, that is. Despite being told to lift his act by officials during the driver’s briefing on Friday, Morris still managed to punt a couple of drivers from what the television cameras showed.
Race two started very nervously, with practically everyone starting on yesterday’s used tyres, looking to change to fresher sets come the CPS. There was some dramatic footage in the first five laps of Craig Lowndes’ car 888, twitching and over-steering badly in front of Ingall’s #39 Commodore. Evidence of just how crappy the rears were on the Falcon. A change of rubber and things seemed to settle for for just about everyone.
Mark Winterbottom had a less than two second baulked exit from his compulsory pit stop, yet lost the lead to his team mate Steven Richards. A lap of Hidden Valley is approximately 1.16 minutes, which if a pitstop lasts no longer than three seconds from car stop to release, is just enough time for a V8 Supercar to enter pitlane, stop, release and re-enter the race in the same position as it left the race. Compulsory Pit Stops are finely calculated and modelled by computers in order that crews be able to tell a driver that if he pits on a certain lap, he’ll re-enter the race in a known position. Seconds … even tenths of seconds … make a massive difference on track. Something of a bone of contention with me, because races are won or lost in pitlane, not on the track as it ought to be.
Having said that, I’m very happy to relate that race two was actually won on the track by Garth Tander. Less than eight laps from the end, some fool had let a red Holden t-shirt get away and onto the track just near the end of the braking markers for turn one. Out came the safety car so the debris could be collected, and naturally the field bunched up. Once the safety car peeled away, Tander had clearly been building pace and by the control line, had sufficient acceleration on board to challenge Steven Richards for the lead, and took it. From that point to the finish line, Tander held off the fast finishing FPR Fords to take the second heat. The rest of the ten consisted on Lowndes, Whincup, Ingall, Jason Richards, Skaife (!!?!), Rick Kelly and Davison. My favoured lesser runner, Tony D`Alberto, finished a creditable 15 while the other youngster in the pack, Shane Van Gisbergen, finished 16 after a somewhat frustrating second race exposure to Hidden Valley in the heat of racing.
Race three, if anything, was a disappointment. No-one could match the flying FPR Falcons, even though Garth Tander tried to stay with them. Same with the Triple Eight Falcons and to a lesser degree, the Stone Brother’s Fords. Skaife, again, failed miserably. My favourite up-and-comer had a bingle, losing his cars front air dam, soldiering on to finish a lap down. Rick Kelly and brother Todd, although driving for different teams, both debuted new cars, so it’s not unexpected that neither had a very successful weekend. Greg Murphy had an absolutely miserable time, complaining that his car hadn’t improved at all since the New Zealand round, yet his team mate, Jason Richards, was in the top ten all weekend. I guess it’s a quirk of the sport that by days end, Jason Richards had parked his car, while Murphy managed a 10th place, despite complaining it was a far from perfect car. Even the previously conquering Triple Eight Falcons withered this weekend. Jamie Whincup managed eighth place after being elbowed aside by Tander in the latter part of the race, while Lowndes lunched his engine on the last lap. An almost unheard of occurrence for a Stone Brothers engine, but Darwin is hot and a lot of drafting was being done of a particularly testing track.
Is the winning way of FPR due to the factory’s input? Is it due to the psychological edge having factory support must surely give a team? I don’t think so. I believe that now is FPR’s time in the sun. Other’s will improve and we’re just three more rounds away from the highlight of the season. Bathurst. Before then we have Willowbank, Winton and the endurance opener, Phillip Island. I’ll wager that HRT will be back at Winton. Even Skaife might have a better than mediocre weekend there. Triple Eight, SBR or maybe even the Toll HSV team might perform well in Queensland, but the endurance rounds will sort the pretenders from the kings. Whether FPR can stay on top, only time will tell. For now, it’s good to see them doing well. Here’s the points tally.
Willowbank here in Queensland is the next round, and by all accounts, I should be heading out there for the two racing days. Here’s hoping for some great photos and that tour of D’Alberto’s garage we missed out on last year.