A near-perfect weekend has seen Craig Lowndes trim his points deficit to Mark Winterbottom to 179 points after the Red Bull Racing driver claimed another crucial victory as the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint was brought to a close.
Winterbottom finished in fourth place in Sunday’s 200-kilometre race and found himself being bundled out of third on the final lap thanks to an aggressive lunge by Lowndes’ teammate Jamie Whincup.
Winterbottom simply didn’t have the race pace to contend with Lowndes, and despite leading in the opening stanza of the race, found himself jumped by the Volvo of Scott McLaughlin at the first cycle of pit stops and then by Lowndes after his second and final visit to the pit lane.
Lowndes – who initially had a poor start off the line – and McLaughlin then ran 1-2 for the remainder of the race after Lowndes overtook the Volvo driver as he was exiting the pit lane.
McLaughlin had plenty of pace and tried to mount an attach on the series veteran. Lowndes had his bases covered and crossed the finish line 1.9 seconds clear of the New Zealander, who capped off his best weekend of the season with a podium finish in every race.
Winterbottom steadily dropped back and found himself having to contend with the fast-closing Whincup. The defending champion ran a contrasting strategy by making the first of his two pit stops at the end of the first lap, with the subsequent running in clear air ultimately dragging him back into podium contention in his final stint.
The last lap presented Whincup with the opportunity to pinch the final podium spot – an four more championship points to the benefit of his teammate – off Winterbottom, and as the pair approached MG Corner he made his move and dived for the inside of the right-hander.
Winterbottom saw it coming but reacted too late, squeezing Whincup onto the grass with an extremely aggressive move that saw the pair touch as Whincup slithered up the inside.
Nissan Motorsport drivers Todd Kelly and Rick Kelly finished fifth and sixth in a highly competitive showing for the Japanese carmaker; James Moffat also finished inside the top ten in eighth place as the trio sandwiched Shane van Gisbergen’s TEKNO Autosports Holden.
Rick Kelly did well to make the finish after a wild opening-lap brush with the second Prodrive Racing Ford of Cameron Waters as the pair battled through the Hayshed; Waters was forced to pit with a puncture as a result of the skirmish.
That was one of a number of opening-lap incidents. Lee Holdsworth’s Holden was eliminated in a multi-car accident that also saw Dale Wood’s Holden suffer damage and James Courtney’s HRT Commodore held up trying to pick his way through the mess.
Wood’s teammate Jason Bright was another driver to narrowly avoid contact, but the veteran’s race would come undone when he was unsafely released from his pit bay into the path of Scott Pye’s DJR Team Penske Ford and copped a drive-though penalty.
Pye survived that brush, only to later throw away his own shot at a top-ten finish with an off-track moment at Lukey Heights.
The fourth Nissan of Michael Caruso should also have featured in the top-ten, only to also be hit with a pit lane penalty for spinning his wheels while on the air jacks during his second pit stop. The subsequent drive-through penalty dropped him to 22nd place.
The wash-up from the event means that Winterbottom and Lowndes will battle it out for championship honours at the season finale, the Coates Hire Sydney 500 at Sydney Olympic Park, in two weeks’ time. Winterbottom’s teammate David Reynolds lies 319 points adrift and is mathematically out of contention given there are a maximum of 300 points up for grabs over the final three races of the year.
|2015 V8 Supercars WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint – Race 33 Top-10 Finishers (45 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Craig Lowndes||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||1:12:25.371|
|2.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 1.970|
|3.||Jamie Whincup||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||+ 12.611|
|4.||Mark Winterbottom||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 12.893|
|5.||Todd Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 28.686|
|6.||Rick Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 29.532|
|7.||Shane van Gisbergen||TEKNO Autosports||+ 30.389|
|8.||James Moffat||Nissan Motorsport||+ 31.037|
|9.||Garth Tander||Holden Racing Team||+ 39.457|
|10.||David Reynolds||Rod Nash Racing||+ 39.839|
Image via Motorsport.com