The Supercars endurance season kicks off this weekend with the field heading to Melbourne for the classic curtain raiser, the Sandown 500.
Currently hosting the year’s “retro round”, Sandown has historically been the first race to signify the start of the endurance series, now playing as the opening round of the Pirtek Enduro Cup.
|Sandown International Raceway|
|Location||Melbourne, Victoria||Circuit Length||3.104 km / 1.928 mi|
|Opened||1962||First ATCC Event||1964|
|Direction||Anticlockwise||Lap Record||1:08.5729 – Jamie Whincup (2014)|
For the sixth year in a row, Melbourne’s Sandown Raceway plays host to the traditional 500-kilometre race that acts as the curtain-raiser to next month’s iconic Bathurst 1000.
Located about 25km south-east of Melbourne’s city centre, the circuit is an institution on the Australian motorsport landscape. Along with the racing circuit, the facility also houses Sandown Racecourse, Melbourne’s second-largest horse-racing facility.
The circuit was first opened in 1962, the track played host to the non-championship Australian Grand Prix on six occasions. In 1964, the venue staged a six-hour international touring car race, which would eventually gain fame as the Sandown 500.
Featuring two long straights, the track is known for its high speeds and great slipstreaming battles, with the best overtaking spots being at the Turn 1 and Turn 9 left-handers, which are the track’s heaviest braking zones.
As it’s built within the confines of the horse-racing facility, its safety barriers are positioned very closely to the margins of the circuit at some points, and circuit run-off is limited. A high-speed shunt will guarantee a hefty repair bill.
|2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship – Wilson Security Sandown 500|
|Event Dates||15-17 September 2017||Format||Pirtek Enduro Cup|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 11:15-11:45*||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 13:35-14:05|
|Free Practice Session 3||Fri 16:10-16:40*||Free Practice Session 4||Sat 09:20-09:35|
|Provisional Qualifying||Sat 10:50-11:10||Qualifying Race 1 (20 laps)||Sat 13:45-14:20*|
|Qualifying Race 2 (20 laps)||Sat 16:15-16:50||Sunday Warm-Up||Sun 09:40-10:00|
|Race 19 (161 laps)||Sun 13:15-16:50|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 10:00)
* Denotes co-driver only sessions
Rewind to 2016
Unique to the Sandown race, the grid is set by three qualifying sessions. The first saw Chaz Mostert set the fastest time ahead of Jamie Whincup, Fabian Coulthard and Garth Tander. This set the grid for a 20 lap race to be contested only by the co-drivers.
Paul Dumbrell (#88) got the best run off the line, putting himself in to the lead. As the field condensed in to turn one, Dean Canto (#1) hit the rear of Tony D’Alberto (#17), sending the DJR car around and earning himself a drive-through penalty. A few little incidents throughout the race couldn’t detract from Dumbrell crossing the line first, putting Whincup on pole for his qualifying race.
While the #88 machine led off the line, Mostert ran wide at turn one, dropping from second to eighth. Contact further back on the run to turn two saw Cam Waters bogged in the grass, triggering the safety car. Garth Tander was hot on the heels of Whincup after the restart but the action was further back as on lap 17, Shane Van Gisbergen pushed Coulthard wide. Coulthard then forced Will Davison off the racing line two corners later. Both Kiwis were told to redress positions after the incidents. At the front, Whincup took the “win” to put his car on pole for Sunday’s feature race. Tander, Scott McLaughlin, James Moffat, Mostert, James Courtney, Van Gisbergen, Tim Slade, Michael Caruso and Davison completed the top ten for the grid.
The start of the race saw the co-drivers start each car, driving the opening stint then handing over to the main drivers later in the stint. Dumbrell started from pole but got too much wheelspin off the line, relinquishing the lead to Warren Luff (#2) with David Wall (#33) and Ash Walsh (#14) in hot pursuit. Contact was made further back between James Golding (#34) and Jack Perkins (#22), causing a puncture to Golding’s car. Down the back straight, the right front tyre left go on approach to the fastest corner on track, sending the Volvo into the tyre barrier at just under 200km/h. Golding emerged unscathed though the red flag was brought out while the crash was cleaned up.
After a delay which lasted just under half an hour, the race restarted under control of the safety car on lap six. Luff controlled the field and started to extend the lead in the opening laps. On lap 15, Steven Richards (#888) spun at turn four after touching the slippery painted curbs, rejoining in 24th spot. A lap later, Russell Ingall (#15) understeered at the same spot, nosing his Altima in to the tyres, causing mild damage and dropping to last place. The rain started on lap 35 and most of the field pitted around lap 37 for fuel and rain tyres.
Richie Stanaway (#111), Canto and Cameron McConville (#222) had already pitted a few laps earlier but were on slick tyres in the increasing wet conditions. As the rain started to ease, the trio caught up with the front of the race with Stanaway and Canto in third and fourth respectively by lap 51. However, rain started to fall again and he damp track caught Canto out as Walsh tried to pass him at turn 4, forcing the Falcon on to the wettest bit of the road, causing it to understeer in to the wall. Canto couldn’t dig himself out of the barrier which led to the safety car coming out again, just on the lap where the co-drivers had reached their minimum lap number.
Most of the lead pack came in to swap drivers as the minimum lap number had been met, leaving Dumbrell in the lead. The rain again ceased, Tander and McLaughlin moving in to second and third, honing in on Dumbrell at the front of the pack. On lap 74, the leaders came in after seeing others gain ground on slick tyres. In the pit stop, Dumbrell handed over to Whincup but had removed his seat belts before arriving in the pit box, earning the car a drive-through penalty which dropped them to 18th. This meant McLaughlin assumed the effective lead ahead of Tander and Van Gisbergen.
The lead was hotly contested between Tander and McLaughlin but the Volvo was able to hold station until the final round of pit stops where Tander emerged ahead of the Kiwis behind. McLaughlin made a mistake when he rejoined, running wide at turn one which allowed Van Gisbergen in to second spot. A scuffle and errors between Lowndes and McLaughlin saw Davison move in to third ahead of McLaughlin, Mostert and Lowndes. Coming down the front straight on lap 122, Tander’s left front guard popped off the car, remaining by a few bolts. This caused speed issues down the straight but the officials decided not to pull him in to the pits to get it fixed.
As the race entered the dying laps thanks to the earlier delay, Van Gisbergen closed in on the ailing Tander who was losing speed due to the guard wanting to break free. Despite trying all he could and coming to within a second of the lead car on the final lap, the #97 wasn’t able to pass the #2 as Tander took his first win of the season. Davison came home third while McLaughlin, Mostert, Coulthard, Todd Kelly, Lowndes, Percat and Rick Kelly rounded out the ten.
The Form Guide
This year’s race will be one of the closest yet if the action so far this season is anything to go by. Scott McLaughlin comes in to the round with a slender 12 point lead in the standings over Jamie Whincup, the tightest ever going in to this time of the year. Both have gun co-drivers; Dumbrell (paired with Whincup) is a full-time driver in the Super2 series while Premat (with McLaughlin) is the reigning enduro cup champion.
Good things can be expected from the #97 car too with Shane Van Gisbergen wanting to get himself back in to championship contention while his co-driver (and Porsche Supercup ace) Matt Campbell wants to make his presense felt in the championship. Don’t rule out the #12 of Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto or the #55 of Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen, both pairings performing well in the past.
As mentioned before, Sandown hosts retro round for the second year in succession and many of the teams have got onboard with the idea, paying homage either to their own history or to that of other prominent motorsports icons. While many of the normal numbers are retained for this weekend, don’t adjust your sets if they’re not matched to the same coloured car!
|2017 Wilson Security Sandown 500 Weather Forecast|
|Friday||6°C – 16°C||Saturday||3°C – 13°C||Sunday||11°C – 18°C|
Images via Motorsport.com