Garth Tander and his rookie co-driver Nick Percat have claimed a thrilling victory for the Holden Racing Team at the Bathurst 1000, with Tander holding out Triple 8 Holden driver Craig Lowndes by less than 0.3 seconds.
Lowndes’ second-placed finish was enough to see the former champion claim the lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings from team-mate Jamie Whincup, who dropped out of contention for the race win with battery problems.
In a change up to past races at Mount Panorama, it was a fairly event-free first half of the 161-lap race. Pole-sitter Greg Murphy retained his lead on the short dash to the first corner, but his joy would be short-lived, when Will Davison took the lead from the Kelly Racing driver on the seventh lap.
Fabian Coulthard claimed the indignity of being the race’s first retirement – as was also the cast last year, when he retired on the first lap courtesy of a spectacular crash. The New Zealander was forced to retire his Walkinshaw Racing Holden after he hit the wall at the Dipper, trying to avoid an unexpectedly-slowing Jason Bright, who suffered an engine cut-out.
Lowndes’ co-driver Mark Skaife would make a small mistake on the sixteenth lap, running wide and allowing the sister Triple 8 Whincup/Thompson Holden ahead – this would later prove crucial when the team’s strategy began to play out, as whoever was behind in the two-car team would be forced to queue in the pits in the event of a Safety Car.
After the first round of pit stops, Whincup (having taken over from Thompson) took the lead from Davison’s co-driver, Luke Youlden. Shortly afterwards, V8 debutant Cameron Waters crashed his Kelly Racing Holden at Forrest’s Elbow – the teenager limped his battered car back to the pits, and it would eventually join the action many laps down.
Lap 40 saw the first of several Safety Car interruptions, this one being for corner workers to carry out track repairs. The full-course caution saw a flurry of activity and driver changes in the pits; Skaife was forced to queue behind the Whincup/Thompson car as it pitted, losing many places as a result.
Almost immediately as the race restarted, Youlden buried the #6 FPR Ford in the tyre barriers at the last corner. The Safety Car was out again while marshals plucked the car from the kitty litter; Youlden and Davison would finish a distant 18th.
With the racing now underway, Lowndes (having taken over from Skaife) now set about trying to work his way back up the order, eventually working his way up to second behind Whincup.
Lap 63 saw the third Safety Car outing, and it was into the pits once again for the field – yet again, the Lowndes/Skaife car was forced to queue in the pits, although Lowndes raised the ire of his competitors by deliberately slowing the queue of cars behind him en route to the pits so he would not suffer too big a loss of places in the pits.
Lowndes fell to sixth after this stop, promoting Tander/Percat to second and the Winterbottom/Richards Ford to third, an impressive feat considering Richards had stalled when the race got underway.
By Lap 84, Lowndes had picked his way up through the order and passed Tander for second place. He then set about closing down the Whincup/Thompson sister car once again, which was rumoured to be suffering an alternator problem.
Another two safety cars, and this time the Lowndes/Skaife car pitted out of sequence with the sister car to avoid continued repeats of having to queue in the pits, but this left Skaife buried in the pack and with plenty of work to do.
With just under 50 laps to go, the race saw its most frightening accident when David Besnard, co-pilot with Steven Richards in the #17 Dick Johnson Racing Ford, hit the wall hard at Turn 2. The accident occurred immediately after a pit stop for Besnard, who had neglected to pump his brakes during his pit stop; he found himself with no front brakes and slammed into the wall, rupturing the car’s fuel tank, with the spilt fuel catching fire.
Thankfully, marshals put out the fire in record time, and Besnard clambered from the wreck uninjured. But it sparked a lengthy Safety Car period while the mess was cleaned up; the flurry of pit stops saw the Tander/Percat car now assume the lead.
With Whincup threatening to reclaim the lead, his hopes of an all-important win went with his flat battery; he eventually crawled back to the pits, but his race was effectively finished.
Tander now led while Lowndes was down in seventh, seemingly without any hope of claiming his fifth Peter Brock Trophy in six years.
But the Bathurst 1000 always has another joker in its deck, and this came in the form of Rick Kelly, whose Holden decided to shed vast quantities of oil along the back half of the circuit, which allowed Lowndes to gain three places in one corner as those ahead of him tripped up and slid wide.
Lowndes was now fourth, quickly dispatching third-placed Jason Bright and second-placed Greg Murphy, giving himself the task of closing down Tander’s five-second lead in the thirteen laps remaining.
The last thirteen laps of the race were truly thrilling, as Lowndes steadily chipped away at Tander, and with three laps to go, the pair was line astern.
But Tander resolutely held on to claim victory, while Lowndes’ hard-fought drive gave him a 100-point lead over team-mate Whincup in the points’ race. Greg Murphy and Danish driver Allan Simonsen rounded out the podium.
V8 Supercars Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 Final Classification (161 laps):
|Driver / Co-Driver||Entry / Team||Result|
|1.||Garth Tander / Nick Percat||Holden Racing Team||6:26:52.269|
|2.||Craig Lowndes / Mark Skaife||Triple 8 Racing||+ 0.292|
|3.||Greg Murphy / Allan Simonsen||Kelly Racing||+ 11.795|
|4.||Mark Winterbottom / Steve Richards||Ford Performance Racing||+ 19.519|
|5.||Jason Bright / Andrew Jones||Brad Jones Racing||+ 19.923|
|6.||Shane van Gisbergen / John McIntyre||Stone Brothers Racing||+ 33.611|
|7.||James Courtney / Cameron McConville||Holden Racing Team||+ 36.205|
|8.||Russell Ingall / Jack Perkins||Paul Morris Motorsport||+ 37.183|
|9.||Tony D’Alberto / Dale Wood||Tony D’Alberto Racing||+ 41.675|
|10.||Michael Caruso / Marcus Marshall||Garry Rogers Motorsport||+ 47.857|
|11.||Steve Owen / Paul Morris||Paul Morris Motorsport||+ 49.751|
|12.||Tim Slade / Daniel Gaunt||Stone Brothers Racing||+ 50.121|
|13.||Jonathan Webb / Richard Lyons||Tekno Autosport||+ 50.884|
|14.||Karl Reindler / David Wall||Brad Jones Racing||+ 55.352|
|15.||Warren Luff / Nathan Pretty||Lucas Dumbrell||+ 1:04.808|
|16.||Alex Davison / David Brabham||Stone Brothers Racing||+ 1:11.850|
|17.||Lee Holdsworth / Greg Ritter||Garry Rogers Motorsport||+ 1:37.619|
|18.||Will Davison / Luke Youlden||Ford Performance Racing||+ 1:48.313|
|19.||David Reynolds / Tim Blanchard||Kelly Racing||+ 2:03.288|
|20.||Dean Fiore / Michael Patrizi||Triple F Racing||1 lap behind|
|21.||Jamie Whincup / Andrew Thompson||Triple 8 Racing||1 lap behind|
|22.||Rick Kelly / Owen Kelly||Kelly Racing||2 laps behind|
|23.||Jason Bargwanna / Shane Price||Brad Jones Racing||3 laps behind|
|24.||Todd Kelly / David Russell||Kelly Racing||7 laps behind|
|25.||James Moffat / Matt Halliday||Dick Johnson Racing||15 laps behind|
|DNF.||Paul Dumbrell / Dean Canto||Rod Nash Racing||144 laps|
|DNF.||Steven Johnson / David Besnard||Dick Johnson Racing||112 laps|
|DNF.||Grant Denyer / Cameron Waters||Kelly Racing||95 laps|
|DNF.||Fabian Coulthard / Craig Baird||Walkinshaw Racing||13 laps|
[Image and video via V8 Supercars]