Craig Lowndes has claimed an against-the-odds victory in the penultimate race of this year’s V8 Supercars Championship season in Sydney, with the Team Vodafone Holden driver keeping his championship hopes alive, capitalising on his championship rival and team-mate Jamie Whincup having a nightmare race around the streets of Homebush.
Lowndes’ recovery was all the more remarkable after he threw away an opportunity of a better qualifying position when he had a spin on his hot-lap during the earlier Top-10 qualifying shootout; the error left him starting tenth, while Whincup would start five places further up the grid.
Starting from his third pole position, Will Davison managed to convert his front-row start into an early race lead, but the Ford Performance Racing driver quickly found himself under pressure from the chasing Lee Holdsworth (GRM Holden) and his FPR team-mate Mark Winterbottom.
On the tenth lap, he slipped behind the pair, and ended his afternoon early as the race’s first retiree when he crashed out, bringing out the first of several safety car interruptions in this race.
The early pause allowed many drivers in the field to explore alternative strategies; some opted to pit, while others elected to stay out and gain track position.
Whincup elected to pit, while Lowndes opted to remain out on the track, and he took his cue to peel in for his first pit stop when all his Christmases came at once: Whincup crashed at Turn 5 after his front right damper broke.
Whincup was able to limp back to the pits, and after a lengthy pit stop he emerged four laps behind, eventually going on to finish last of the classified runners.
Most of the field piled into the pits, and it was now Russell Ingall’s turn to take the lead in his Paul Morris Holden, followed by Steven Johnson (Dick Johnson Ford) and Greg Murphy (Kelly Racing Holden).
The effective leader was Homebush specialist Holdsworth, but he was quickly passed by Winterbottom, who then earned himself a drive-through penalty after he tipped Murphy into a spin on Lap 32.
Holdsworth’s team-mate Michael Caruso assumed the lead when Ingall and Johnson finally peeled into the pits for their stops, and he enjoyed his moment in the sun ahead of Rick Kelly and a fast-closing Lowndes.
Lowndes got ahead of Kelly on Lap 42 before the third and final safety car interruption (brought about when Jason Bright retired his Brad Jones Holden on the circuit), and then he got by Caruso after a lengthy battle for the lead.
The final phase of the race became one of fuel conservation, with the entire field praying for another safety car interruption to give them a little bit of breathing space.
Kelly was the first to fly the white flag, pitting his Holden on the penultimate lap for a splash-and-dash stop, while Caruso spluttered to a crawl on the final lap as he too ran dry. He had just enough momentum to coast over the finish line, although he was clobbered by van Gisbergen at the final corner, with the Kiwi scrambling over the line to claim third place.
The last-lap chaos saw Garth Tander claim a surprise second place, finishing just behind a coasting Lowndes, who now closes to within 80 points of Whincup, with tomorrow’s final race offering a maximum of 150 points up for grabs.
V8 Supercars Sydney Telstra 500 Final Classification (Race 1 – 74 laps):
|Driver||Entry / Team||Result|
|1.||Craig Lowndes||Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Racing||1:59:35.1252|
|2.||Garth Tander||TOLL / Holden Racing Team||+ 0.8814|
|3.||Shane van Gisbergen||SP Tools / Stone Brothers Racing||+ 6.8218|
|4.||Michael Caruso||Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport||+ 8.2266|
|5.||Mark Winterbottom||Orrcon Steel / Ford Performance Racing||+ 10.7098|
|6.||Tim Slade||Lucky 7 Racing / Stone Brothers Racing||+ 19.8048|
|7.||James Courtney||TOLL / Holden Racing Team||+ 20.2948|
|8.||James Moffat||Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing||+ 27.9926|
|9.||Todd Kelly||Jack Daniel’s / Kelly Racing||+ 30.1826|
|10.||Rick Kelly||Jack Daniel’s / Kelly Racing||+ 33.6546|
|11.||Fabian Coulthard||Bundaberg Racing / Walkinshaw Racing||+ 39.5600|
|12.||Alex Davison||Irwin / Stone Brothers Racing||+ 41.4724|
|13.||David Reynolds||Stratco Racing / Kelly Racing||+ 41.6777|
|14.||Lee Holdsworth||Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport||+ 44.6574|
|15.||Warren Luff||Gulf Western Oil / Lucas Dumbrell||+ 46.7945|
|16.||Greg Murphy||Pepsi Max Crew / Kelly Racing||+ 50.4360|
|17.||Russell Ingall||Supercheap Auto / Paul Morris M’sport||+ 54.2444|
|18.||Steven Johnson||Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing||+ 1:01.2062|
|19.||Karl Reindler||Fair Dinkum Sheds / Brad Jones Racing||+ 1:11.0822|
|20.||Jamie Whincup||Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Racing||6 laps behind|
|DNF.||Dean Fiore||Westrac Racing / Triple F Racing||73 laps|
|DNF.||Paul Dumbrell||The Bottle-O Racing Team / Rod Nash||50 laps|
|DNF.||Jason Bright||Team BOC / Brad Jones Racing||45 laps|
|DNF.||Steve Owen||VIP Petfoods / Paul Morris Motorsport||42 laps|
|DNF.||Tony D’Alberto||Wilson Security / Tony D’Alberto Racing||36 laps|
|DNF.||Jonathon Webb||Mother Energy Racing Team / Tekno||34 laps|
|DNF.||Jason Bargwanna||Jana Living Racing / Brad Jones Racing||29 laps|
|DNF.||Will Davison||Trading Post / Ford Performance Racing||11 laps|
[Images via Team Vodafone and V8 Supercars; video via V8 Supercars]