Craig Lowndes has survived heatwave conditions to win the opening race of the Sydney Telstra 500

Craig Lowndes has become the first two-time winner at Sydney Olympic Park after denying polesitter Tim Slade a shot at a maiden V8 Supercars win in baking conditions today.

Conditions for today’s 74-lap, 250-kilometre race were among the most extreme to have been witnessed in the championship’s history, with ambient temperatures of 40ºC (104ºF) recorded when the race got underway at 3:00pm local time. Those kind of conditions would bring cockpit temperatures well past 65ºC (150ºF), and into an area where driver hydration and concentration are tested to the extreme.

It was therefore little surprise to see plenty of accident and incident. The race was punctuated by several safety car interruptions and visits to the pit lane for repairs, and it ultimately become a race of fuel economy which saw only half the grid finish on the lead leap, assuming they made it to the finish at all…

The extreme conditions made it a race of attrition

After TeamVodafone’s disastrous qualifying performances this morning – Lowndes started 16th; team-mate Jamie Whincup was just two spots ahead – the pair made rapid progress through the field.

Lowndes needed a hefty points haul in order to stand a chance of snatching second place in the Drivers’ Championship from Mark Winterbottom, and it was Whincup who eased his passage to this.

As the pair peeled into the pits nose-to-tail for the final round of pit stops – staged under yet another safety car interruption – Whincup pulled over into the ‘neutral area’ of pit lane to allow Lowndes ahead so he avoid having to queue behind his team-mate.

That tactical call proved a masterstroke, and it gave Lowndes the advantage he needed to chase down race leader Slade in the closing laps.

Slade was also keeping an eye on his fuel gauge, and perhaps spent too much time concentrating on it instead of the next corner. On Lap 62, he outbraked himself by a few metres, and it proved all the invitation Lowndes needed to slip through into the lead and his 89th career win in touring cars.

Slade would run on to second place, but not before coming under intense pressure from James Courtney, with the HRT driver enjoying a rare moment in the sun to claim his first podium finish of a trying 2012 season.

But Courtney’s hopes of challenging Slade’s position came to nought along with his fuel gauge, forcing the former champion to crawl over the finish line with a near-empty tank.

Jonathon Webb did likewise, finishing a solid fourth in his Tekno Autosports Holden, while Whincup came home in fifth place.

Rick Kelly, Karl Reindler, James Moffat, Mark Winterbottom and Michael Caruso filled sixth through 10th at the finish.

French import Alexandre Premat would have claimed a fine career-best finish in the top-five had he not been one of several drivers to fall foul of the extreme heat, and the poor GRM Holden driver came off worse when he was pulled from his car, collapsing in the pit lane with severe heat stress and dehydration.

As it typically the case with the races around this concrete-lined street circuit, the attrition rate was high, and it kicked off before the race even began when Lee Holdsworth’s SBR Ford broke its driveshaft on the warm-up lap.

The race only ran one lap in anger before the Safety Car made its first appearance after Holdsworth’s team-mate Shane van Gisbergen came together with Tony D’Alberto. Van Gisbergen tried to limp back to the pits, but his steering was so damaged that he only succeeded in colliding with the chasing course medical car!

The Safety Car made a further two appearances in the opening twenty laps, courtesy of retirements for Steve Johnson (mechanical), and a collision between David Wall and D’Alberto, fresh from his incident with van Gisbergen. D’Alberto would cop a second pit lane penalty for that collision.

The fourth a final safety car interruption came when Jason Bright hit the tyre barriers at Turn 8 trying to retake his position from Premat, who had overtaken him a few corners earlier after cutting the chicane. The Frenchman was actually in the process of handing back the place to Bright, to further compound the irony of the situation!

Winterbottom’s FPR stablemates, Will Davison and David Reynolds, both had nightmare races and lost time in the pits having bent steering arms replaces after separate clashes with the concrete walls, while Reynolds also had his driving boots melt in the extreme conditions.

Garth Tander was another driver who spent time in the pit lane undertaking several battery changes courtesy of a faulty alternator, while Fabian Coulthard and Greg Murphy ensured that none of the New Zealand contingent on the grid would finish, retiring with throttle and steering issues respectively.

2012 V8 Supercars Sydney Telstra 500 – Race 1 Final Classification (74 laps):

Driver Entry / Team Result
1. Craig Lowndes Holden Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Racing 2:03:49.649
2. Tim Slade Ford Lucky 7 Racing / Stone Brothers Racing + 1.105
3. James Courtney Holden TOLL / Holden Racing Team + 24.510
4. Jonathon Webb Holden Tekno Autosports + 30.409
5. Jamie Whincup Holden Team Vodafone / Triple 8 Racing + 30.992
6. Rick Kelly Holden Jack Daniel’s / Kelly Racing + 33.267
7. Karl Reindler Holden Fair Dinkum Sheds / Kelly Racing + 36.291
8. James Moffat Ford Team Norton / Dick Johnson Racing + 41.918
9. Mark Winterbottom Ford Orrcon Steel / Ford Performance Racing + 44.700
10. Michael Caruso Holden Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport + 52.469
11. Tony D’Alberto Ford HIFLEX Racing / Tony D’Alberto Racing + 1:00.605
12. Russell Ingall Holden Supercheap Auto / Walkinshaw Racing + 1:14.090
13. Steve Owen Ford VIP Petfoods / Dick Johnson Racing + 1:28.471
14. Tim Blanchard Holden Jack Daniel’s / Kelly Racing + 1:30.564
15. Dean Fiore Ford Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing 1 lap behind
16. Michael Patrizi Holden Tekno Autosports 1 lap behind
17. David Reynolds Ford The Bottle-O Racing Team / Rod Nash 5 laps behind
18. Taz Douglas Holden Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport 6 laps behind
19. Will Davison Ford Trading Post / Ford Performance Racing 9 laps behind
20. David Wall Holden Wilson Security / Brad Jones Racing 15 laps behind
21. Garth Tander Holden TOLL / Holden Racing Team 16 laps behind
  Not Classified      
DNF. Alexandre Prémat Holden Fujitsu Racing / Garry Rogers Motorsport 59 laps
DNF. Jason Bright Holden Team BOC / Brad Jones Racing 43 laps
DNF. Greg Murphy Holden Pepsi Max Crew / Kelly Racing 26 laps
DNF. Fabian Coulthard Holden Lockwood Racing / Brad Jones Racing 18 laps
DNF. Steven Johnson Ford Jim Beam Racing / Dick Johnson Racing 5 laps
DNF. Shane van Gisbergen Ford SP Tools / Stone Brothers Racing 0 laps
DNS. Lee Holdsworth Ford Irwin Racing / Stone Brothers Racing did not start

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Yassmin Abdel-Magied
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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.