V8 Supercars championship leader James Courtney has seemingly arrested his slide in form and luck over the last few rounds of the season with an excellent win in an interrupted and shortened second race of the Norton 360 Challenge at Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway.
The Jim Beam Racing driver has seen his championship lead steadily whittled away over the last few rounds as a combination of poor form and luck have allowed championship rivals Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom back into the championship mix.
And again it seemed that Courtney would lose more of his points margin to his rivals as he ran behind them in the opening stages of the race, which was led by Russell Ingall, who backed up his Race 1 pace with another strong showing in his Holden.
But Courtney’s fortunes changed when the race was red-flagged at half-distance after a huge accident between Michael Caruso and Will Davison: the former ran into the back of the latter at the end of the back straight, resulting in another colossal accident at the same spot where Garth Tander had caused a red flag stoppage in Race 1.
Fortunately both drivers were unhurt – although their cars were comprehensively destroyed – and the race got underway with a reshuffled grid for the remaining (shortened) 26 laps with Shave van Gisbergen and Dean Fiore occupying the front row by dint of their running positions at the time of the stoppage, when many drivers had used the stoppage to pit for fresh tyres.
But Courtney was back on the attack at the resumption of the race, overtaking Winterbottom for the lead with 16 laps to go en route to a well-earned victory.
Winterbottom had to use the rest of his racing laps to fend off the advances of Jamie Whincup, who himself had Lee Holdsworth chewing on his rear bumper.
Steven Johnson and Tim Slade finished right up the order in fifth and sixth, having benefits enormously from the race stoppage to vault up the order, while polesitter (and Race 1 winner) Paul Dumbrell climbed up to seventh place after finding himself starting 18th at the restart.
The championship’s final event will be the Telstra Sydney 500 in a fortnight’s time, staged on a makeshift street circuit around the former Olympic Games complex. With 300 points up for grabs, Courtney’s 53-point lead over Whincup is certainly pretty handy, while Winterbottom will be praying for issues to his two chief rivals, as he is 203 points behind Courtney in the title race.
Race 2 Final Classification:
|1.||James Courtney||Jim Beam Racing||1:51:43.6234|
|2.||Mark Winterbottom||Ford Performance Racing||+ 1.5543|
|3.||Jamie Whincup||Team Vodafone||+ 1.8574|
|4.||Lee Holdsworth||Fujitsu Racing / GRM||+ 1.8616|
|5.||Steven Johnson||Jim Beam Racing||+ 8.8961|
|6.||Tim Slade||Wilson Security Racing||+ 8.9333|
|7.||Paul Dumbrell||The Bottle-O Racing Team||+ 11.6387|
|8.||Rick Kelly||Jack Daniel’s Racing||+ 12.9653|
|9.||Jonathon Webb||Dick Johnson Racing||+ 15.3057|
|10.||Greg Murphy||Castrol Edge Racing||+ 16.1227|
|11.||Craig Lowndes||Team Vodafone||+ 20.6449|
|12.||Fabian Coulthard||Bundaberg Red Racing||+ 25.5798|
|13.||Russell Ingall||Supercheap Auto Racing||+ 26.5637|
|14.||Tony D’Alberto||Centaur Racing||+ 27.5928|
|15.||Steven Richards||Ford Performance Racing||+ 32.5498|
|16.||Andrew Thompson||Bundaberg Red Racing||+ 34.3127|
|17.||Garth Tander||TOLL Holden Racing Team||+ 35.8038|
|18.||Dean Fiore||Triple F Racing||+ 41.9568|
|19.||Todd Kelly||Jack Daniel’s Racing||+ 43.5908|
|20.||Jason Bargwanna||ROCK Racing||+ 44.1410|
|21.||Alex Davison||IRWIN Racing||+ 44.3350|
|22.||Karl Reindler||Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing||+ 1 lap|
|23.||Tony Ricciardello||Stratco Racing||+ 2 laps|
|24.||Jason Bright||Trading Post Racing||+ 9 laps|
|Shane van Gisbergen||SP Tools Racing||58 laps|
|Andrew Jones||Team BOC||37 laps|
|Will Davison||TOLL Holden Racing Team||31 laps|
|Michael Caruso||Fujitsu Racing / GRM||31 laps|
|Warren Luff||Gulf Western Oil Racing||19 laps|
[Original image via V8 Supercars official website]