Another year beckons and another V8 Supercars Championship season kicked off in style in the familiar surrounds of the famous Adelaide street circuit. The event saw three different winners over the weekend’s three races, with none of them claiming bragging rights at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Two Practice sessions on Friday were set to be followed by two qualifying sessions for Races 1 and 2; Race 1 would be run on the Dunlop soft tyre, with the following 125-kilometre leg to be run on the hard tyres.
In the build up to the opening sessions throughout the week, for a motorsport fanatic, it’s like the circus has come to town on Christmas and is staying to party on until the New Year.
There were new colours, new teams, changed driver and engineer line-ups, brilliant support categories, endless off-track entertainment and an increased level of competition for the weekend’s main event make for one massively entertaining four days.
As the cars trundled out of pit lane for Practice 1, the most noticeable changes were to Prodrive Racing Australia’s four-car line up. We now have the reigning champ, Mark Winterbottom, in the green Bottle-O #1 Ford Falcon. His teammate Chaz Mostert was recovered from last year’s season-ending injuries and was now in the Rod Nash-owned #55 entry in SuperCheap Auto’s stunning yellow-and-black paint job. The other cars had new full-time drivers: Dunlop Series champion Camerson Waters would run as Winterbottom’s teammate with Monster Energy sponsorship, while New Zealander Chris Pither brought his Ice Break backing to the Super Black Racing stable.
Fellow Ford runners DJR Team Penske now had two Shell-sponsored Ford Falcons for Scott Pye and his new teammate Fabian Coulthard. Another high-profile team with a new helmet behind the wheel was at GRM Volvo, which had Nissan exile James Moffat partnering Scott McLaughlin.
Everyone had an eye on the Triple Eight Engineering outfit, which had now expanded to a three-car team with Kiwi whizkid Shane van Gisbergen joining from TEKNO Autosport.
Auto livery with number 55 on the door while Waters and Pither don Monster Energy and Ice Break colours respectively. We now have two DJR Team Penske Falcons of Pye and Coulthard and Moffat in a Volvo but the one everyone had an eye on was kiwi wiz kid Shane Van Gisbergen in the notorious Tripple 8 engineering Red Bull Commodore.
Practice came and went without major incident, and the drivers and teams had seemed to settle in to their groove quickly. All worked hard on set-up changes to maximise the available grip on both Dunlop compounds. The time sheets looked good and qualifying was set to be a hard-fought battle with very little margin separating the entire field.
Race 1 Qualifying: Pye shines to claim maiden pole
First up was the qualifying session for Race 1 which was set to take part on the soft tyre. It went right down to the wire with an incredible effort from DJR Team Penske’s Scott Pye, who snatched his first pole in the top category.
He was followed by Jamie Whincup, Scott McLaughlin and Mark Winterbottom, who ensured three different manufacturers were represented on the first two rows of the grid. Things were looking tight with only one-tenth of a second splitting all four drivers.
Race 2 Qualifying: Mostert back on top form
The hard-tyre qualifying session was up next and again there was nothing in it. The fairytale story of the session belonged to Chaz Mostert, back in his first race weekend since that horrible accident at Mount Panorama which broke his leg.
He showed he hadn’t lost any of the qualifying prowess that took him to ten pole positions last year, giving Ford a qualifying lockout for the day after Pye’s earlier pole-grabbing effort.
Whincup was again second-fastest ahead of McLaughlin, while HRT’s James Courtney – aiming for his third win on the Adelaide streets in as many years – lurked ominously with the fourth-fastest time.
Race 1: Whincup edges closer to 100 career wins
It was a hot one. Scorching temperatures in Adelaide are always a concern – even with modern aids such as cool suits – with cabin temperatures set to reach wicked temperatures of 60°C. We’ve seen all sorts of drama from drivers battling heat exhaustion in recent years, and there were concerns of a repeat across Saturday’s two races.
Race 1 got under way with a great start from Jamie Whincup, who vaulted into the lead from the front row. Pole-sitter Scott Pye was sluggish and fell backwards through the field in what was the story of his unfortunate race.
Whincup’s driving was as hot as the track temperatures, pulling a comfortable gap at the front early on. The six-time series champion was making an early statement, and it was up to the rest of the field to catch him if they could.
James Courtney tried to mount a challenge in his HRT Commodore, picking off Mark Winterbottom, whose Ford seemed to be struggling with terminal understeer that would prove unsolvable for the entire weekend.
There was a bizarre retirement for local driver Tim Slade – making his debut outing for Brad Jones Racing – who made a meal of a flick-spin in the Turn 9 run-off. The Safety Car was called so his Holden could be towed off the circuit, and the interruption gave Courtney a perfectly timed pit stop to make up further places and rejoin behind Whincup in readiness for the race restart; Kiwi duo Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen were right behind.
Courtney pushed hard when racing resumed, but Whincup’s soft-tyre pace in his #88 Holden proved too much to handle and the former champion claimed victory by four seconds. It was a great race, but more was still to come…
|2016 V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 Adelaide – Race 1 Top-10 Finishers (39 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Jamie Whincup||Triple Eight Engineering||56:43.145|
|2.||James Courtney||Holden Racing Team||+ 3.927|
|3.||Shane van Gisbergen||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 7.575|
|4.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 8.465|
|5.||Garth Tander||Holden Racing Team||+ 11.061|
|6.||Todd Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 14.552|
|7.||Craig Lowndes||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 18.102|
|8.||Mark Winterbottom||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 18.828|
|9.||Rick Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 19.362|
|10.||Fabian Coulthard||DJR Team Penske||+ 21.055|
Race 2: Courtney claims a nail-biting win
After a short break to allow for repairs and set-up tweaks due to a switch to the yellow-marked Hard tyres, Race 2 would be underway where Chaz Mostert (who finished a lacklustre sixteenth in Race 1) and Jamie Whincup would do battle from the front row.
Mostert got the jump at the start to lead – Courtney also had a flying getaway from the second row – but it wasn’t long before the Safety Car bunched up the field thanks to a huge accident for Chris Pither. He glanced the wall at the high-speed Turn 8 right-hander, but with broken steering was fired hard into the inside fence, doing significant damage to his Super Black Racing Ford Falcon. It was later confirmed that he would take no part in Sunday’s feature race, such was the damage to his car.
Mostert was much happier on the hard tyres and doing an incredible job to stay at the front. His pace (and therefore track position) was significantly better than his three team mates out of the Prodrive stable, however rookie driver Cam Waters also showed plenty of skill in his first Clipsal 500 with a fantastic job in the Monster Energy-sponsored Falcon. For Mostert to be so strong in his first weekend back was a real credit to him and proved that he’s a champion of the future.
There was a second Safety Car caused by a collision between Courtney’s teammate, Garth Tander, and the BJR Holden of Tim Blanchard. Tander had just exited the pits after a disastrous pit stop where he lost four laps after his car refused to restart. He rejoined the circuit and toured through the Senna Chicane run-off to avoid getting in the way of the field, only to be hit up the back by Blanchard – the latter would later voice his anger at the 2006 series champion.
The race resumed on Lap 20 and Courtney got a run on Mostert into Turn 9 on the following lap. Mostert tried to hang around the outside, but Courtney was always going to hold the racing line and steered the Ford driver over the exit kerbs to allow the chasing Whincup through as well.
The run to the chequered flag would be a display of what motorsport is all about. While there were two heavyweights going at it, it was no slug fest; this fight had all the timing and precision of a Floyd Mayweather bout. Two finely-tuned athletes at the peak of their powers putting on a display that will have people from all over queuing up at the gate to get a glimpse. It was incredibly entertaining as the crowd sat on the edge of their seats while the laps remaining counted down.
With five to go, Courtney clobbered his front left guard on a tyre bundle placed at the apex of the Senna chicane. There were genuine fears that the cracked front splitter could ruin his race, but he pressed on hard despite the damage and with one lap to go he still led Whincup by the tiniest of margins.
On the final lap they ran up towards the infamous Turn 8, with Courtney knowing he had to go all out to make sure Whincup couldn’t get a run on him into the slow Turn 9. They tipped into Turn 8 right on the limit and the rear of Courtney’s car stepped out at 220 km/h; he had 90 degrees of steering lock pointing at the outside wall to correct it and every motorsport fan in the country must have had their hearts in their mouth.
He missed the wall by millimetres and went on to win one of the most thrilling races you are likely to see anywhere in the world. This was world class motorsport at its best.
“It was an amazing battle, shows why he’s such a champion,” Courtney said of the vanquished Whincup.
“I’ve been wheel-to-wheel with him all day which has been fantastic … it definitely was a fight at the end there. [The] old mate probably had a bit of a better car than we did. We had to work hard to keep him behind us.”
Whincup equally enjoyed the battle and also praised his competitor’s racing: “JC deserved that. That was good quality motorsport.”
|2016 V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 Adelaide – Race 2 Top-10 Finishers (39 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||James Courtney||Holden Racing Team||59:37.127|
|2.||Jamie Whincup||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 0.631|
|3.||Chaz Mostert||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 2.525|
|4.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 3.185|
|5.||Shane van Gisbergen||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 6.293|
|6.||Michael Caruso||Nissan Motorsport||+ 12.710|
|7.||Scott Pye||DJR Team Penske||+ 16.445|
|8.||Jason Bright||Brad Jones Racing||+ 17.132|
|9.||Will Davison||TEKNO Autosports||+ 18.742|
|10.||Craig Lowndes||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 20.542|
Race 3 Qualifying: Coulthard continues Ford’s one-lap rout
Could they do it all again on Sunday? This time 78 gruelling laps over 250 kilometres were scheduled without an intermission. The drivers were sore, hot and blistered from yesterday’s double-header but the show must go on.
There was a 20-minute preliminary qualifying session – Scott McLaughlin was quickest by just 0.0567 seconds from Chaz Mostert – before a Top-10 Shootout to determine the first five rows of the grid.
Once again, it was the DJR Team Penske stable which came up trumps, with the outfit’s newcomer Fabian Coulthard doing the honours on his one-lap run to edge out Mostert by just five-thousandths of a second.
Race 3: Percat claims maiden win
The teams had been preparing for more scorching temperatures, but dramatically it started to rain as the cars formed on the grid. Some teams immediately elected to change to wet-weather tyres, while a handful headed to the pits to get one of their mandatory pit stops out of the way. Those who didn’t pit started the race behind the Safety Car, but there was confusion as to whether the early full-course yellow laps were actually being counted towards the overall race distance.
The confusion wouldn’t end once the race turned green, with the running order constantly changing as drivers came unstuck in the greasy conditions, slipping and sliding as the grip levels constantly changed from corner to corner.
Race 2’s respective pole starter and winner, Chaz Mostert and James Courtney, both were casualties in the conditions after running at the front of the field. Mostert crashed out at Turn 8, with Courtney – who had earlier been tipped into a spin by Shane van Gisbergen, for which the Kiwi curiously went unpunished – doing likewise just as the rain intensified.
A thunderstorm set in just minutes later, forcing the race to be suspended after 41 laps in the hope that the conditions would ease.
With the race’s allotted time almost due to expire, the race was restarted with five minutes to run. That brought into question the minimum 140-litre fuel drop rule, which stipulates that every finisher must have taken on 140 litres of fuel over the course of their pit stops.
Most of the runners hadn’t done so, and were forced into the pits on the first lap after the restart to take on the rest of the load. That left LD Motorsport’s Nick Percat as the unlikely race leader and heir apparent to the race win; the local driver fought off an intense challenge from Fabian Coulthard on the final lap to claim his and the little team’s maiden victory.
While there was plenty of confusion and howls of protest over the fuel drop rules – particularly when the race had barely run past half-distance – that should not detract from the spectacle. It was still a thoroughly entertaining display of racing and congratulations has to go to Percat for winning his first solo race in front of his home crowd.
Coulthard and teammate Scott Pye finished in second and third respectively, but were both dealt 30-second post-race time penalties for not completing the fuel drop. That promoted Nissan’s Michael Caruso and HRT’s Garth Tander into the final podium positions, with the consistent Caruso leaving the event as a surprise leader in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Young gun Cameron Waters did a great job to come home fourth with Erebus’ David Reynolds and Nissan brothers Todd and Rick Kelly behind. Reigning champion Mark Winterbottom pitted six times en route to finishing ninth, while further behind were Craig Lowndes (13th) and Jamie Whincup (16th).
|2016 V8 Supercars Clipsal 500 Adelaide – Race 3 Top-10 Finishers (42 laps*)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Nick Percat||LD Motorsport||1:49:03.660|
|2.||Michael Caruso||Nissan Motorsport||+ 7.110|
|3.||Garth Tander||Holden Racing Team||+ 8.764|
|4.||Cameron Waters||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 11.283|
|5.||David Reynolds||Erebus Motorsport V8||+ 12.907|
|6.||Todd Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 13.522|
|7.||Rick Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 13.987|
|8.||Jason Bright||Brad Jones Racing||+ 15.165|
|9.||Mark Winterbottom||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 16.407|
|10.||Shane van Gisbergen||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 17.093|
All in all it was an awesome weekend of motor racing and once again the organisers of the Clipsal 500 – along with all the competitors throughout the different support categories – deserve a big pat on the back.
Even though the next event in two weeks’ time carries no championship weighting, you can guarantee there will be plenty of fans in the grandstands and in front of their TVs when the V8 Supercars play support to the Formula 1 Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park.
Let’s hope Lewis Hamilton and his mates saw Whincup and Courtney going at it because that is what racing is all about. A great start to 2016.
Images via Holden Racing Team, Motorsport.com and V8 Supercars Championship