V8 Supercars rookie driver Jonathon Webb has taken a shock maiden victory on the streets of Sydney in the opening race of the season-ending Telstra Sydney 500 event.
His success came about due to all three championship contenders – James Courtney, Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom, amidst a host of other drivers – crashing out on the same lap and at the same corner when the wet conditions were at their worst.
The race then became one in the pitlane between the crews of Courtney, Whincup and Winterbottom as to who could get their drivers’ cars repaired in time to snatch any last remaining championship points.
Qualifying produced its own surprises, with GRM driver Lee Holdsowrth piloting his Holden around the narrow street circuit quickest to take pole position, repeating his efforts at the same round last year. The pointy end of the grid was completed by Winterbottom and Whincup, while Michael Caruso (4th), Tim Slade (5th), Alex Davison (8th) and Russell Ingall (10th) were surprise performers. Title leader James Courtney was disappointed to qualify sixth after an off-the-pace top-ten shoot-out hot lap.
Holdsworth held his lead at the race start from Winterbottom and Whincup, although Whincup would pass Winterbottom for second on lap two.
The first safety car interruption occurred on lap seven, when Karl Reindler parked his Ford on the pit straight after slapping the pit wall a few corners earlier.
The drivers running toward the back of the field headed to the pits for a tyre and fuel top-up, and this saw the luckless HRT driver Will Davison given a drive-through penalty for colliding with Fabian Coulthard as he was released from his pit bay.
The race restarted on lap ten, and Whincup took the lead from Holdsworth and began to stretch a small lead, pitting (along with Holdsworth and Winterbottom, who swapped places in the pit stops) when the safety car came out again after Tony D’Alberto rammed Warren Luff into the concrete wall and into retirement.
Those who didn’t pit then found themselves at the front, with Michael Caruso leading James Courtney and Alex Davison, but a mistake by Caruso at the restart gave Courtney the race lead, while Whincup and Winterbottom set about making their way back up the running order.
Courtney and Caruso continued at the front of the field, pitting during green flag conditions on lap 27, with Courtney rejoining well down the order in 20th and faced with a long afternoon.
With all the pit lane shuffling, this meant the racy Whincup was now in the lead from Winterbottom, while Courtney had managed to climb to 13th.
The third safety car came out when Dean Fiore crashed at Turn 9 on lap 33, and this saw Whincup and Winterbottom heading to the pits, while Courtney remained out on the circuit and in the lead once again from Alex Davison and Whincup.
Whincup made short work of getting by Davison when the race resumed once again, and Davison slipped behind the chasing Craig Lowndes and Winterbottom as the next joker in the pack reared its head in the form of a light rain shower dousing the track.
Whincup seemed more comfortable in the greasy conditions, and made short work of closing the gap to Courtney. On lap 47 and with the back part of the track now very wet, Whincup passed Courtney at – of all places – Turn 5, only to outbrake himself four corners later and hand the lead to Courtney.
Winterbottom worked his way past Lowndes to put all three championship contenders in the top three positions.
Courtney made his second pit stop on lap 52, taking on a new set of tyres, and struggled to get his tyres up to temperature on the gripless surface. Whincup and Winterbottom stayed out for a further three laps before they pitted, and resumed comfortably ahead of Courtney, just a lap before the next safety car interruption, which was caused when Russell Ingall buried his car into the Turn 8 tyre barriers.
The rain continued to drench the track, but the frontrunners didn’t want to gamble on a tyre change at the risk of sacrificing track position, and the race got underway once again on lap 60.
But with tyre temperatures extremely low and grip disappearing all the time, the top three all conspired to aquaplane into the wall at Turn 5, which took out several other drivers in the chaos, bringing out the Safety Car yet again while Courtney, Whincup and Winterbottom limped their damaged cars back to the pits in the hope of being able to repair their damaged cars.
With half the field now in the ‘DNF’ list, it was Jonathon Webb who now held the lead from Jason Bright, Steven Johnson, Fabian Coulthard and Rick Kelly.
The race was restarted on lap 64, and Webb managed to control proceedings to take an inspired win from the charging Bright, while Kelly managed to work his way past Coulthard and Johnson before the chequered flag was unfurled.
But the key interest in the championship was the battle in the pit lane between the crews of Courtney, Whincup and Winterbottom, as to which (if any) of the crews could get their drivers back onto the circuit in order to claim some championship points.
The rules of the championship state that cars must be circling the circuit when the race is declared, with their last timed lap within 100% of the race fastest lap.
Courtney managed to scramble out of the pit lane just before Webb crossed the finish line for the final time, while Whincup and Winterbottom failed to do so, meaning Courtney picked up a vital 60 points in finishing 15th in a clearly damaged car.
The points haul puts Courtney 113 points ahead of Whincup in the Drivers’ Championship standings, all but assuring the former Jaguar F1 test driver the title with a 150-point maximum points haul available in tomorrow’s final race. Winterbottom, 263 points adrift, is no longer in contention.
This means Courtney simply needs to finish 22nd or better tomorrow in order to secure the title for himself, while Whincup must finish fourth or higher in order to hold any hopes of taking a third title for himself.
Race 1 Final Classification:
|1.||Jonathon Webb||Dick Johnson Racing||2:09:06.9995|
|2.||Jason Bright||Trading Post Racing||+ 0.6375|
|3.||Rick Kelly||Jack Daniel’s Racing||+ 6.6071|
|4.||Steven Johnson||Jim Beam Racing||+ 9.9613|
|5.||Fabian Coulthard||Bundaberg Red Racing||+ 12.1441|
|6.||Michael Caruso||Fujitsu Racing / GRM||+ 19.0878|
|7.||Lee Holdsworth||Fujitsu Racing / GRM||+ 26.7878|
|8.||Andrew Thompson||Bundaberg Red Racing||+ 1:02.4793|
|9.||Jason Bargwanna||ROCK Racing||+ 1 lap|
|10.||Paul Dumbrell||The Bottle-O Racing Team||+ 1 lap|
|11.||Steven Richards||Ford Performance Racing||+ 2 laps|
|12.||Russell Ingall||Supercheap Auto Racing||+ 2 laps|
|13.||Tony D’Alberto||Centaur Racing||+ 2 laps|
|14.||Dean Fiore||Triple F Racing||+ 4 laps|
|15.||James Courtney||Jim Beam Racing||+ 7 laps|
|Jamie Whincup||Team Vodafone||61 laps|
|Shane van Gisbergen||SP Tools Racing||60 laps|
|Craig Lowndes||Team Vodafone||60 laps|
|Mark Winterbottom||Ford Performance Racing||60 laps|
|Todd Kelly||Jack Daniel’s Racing||59 laps|
|Will Davison||TOLL Holden Racing Team||59 laps|
|Garth Tander||TOLL Holden Racing Team||59 laps|
|Alex Davison||IRWIN Racing||59 laps|
|Andrew Jones||Team BOC||59 laps|
|Greg Murphy||Castrol Edge Racing||57 laps|
|Tim Slade||Wilson Security Racing||53 laps|
|Tony Ricciardello||Stratco Racing||33 laps|
|Warren Luff||Gulf Western Oil Racing||15 laps|
|Karl Reindler||Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing||5 laps|