Supercars veteran Rick Kelly has won his first race in seven years after taking a surprise victory today at Winton Raceway.
The 2006 series champion took his 13th career win 210 races after his last victory at Sandown in 2011, putting behind him the emotional week in which Nissan withdrew support from the team he created.
Scott McLaughlin again headed a DJR Team Penske one-two on the front row of the grid with his sixth pole of the year, pipping Fabian Coulthard to the top spot by just over a tenth of a second. The Nissan pairing of Michael Caruso and Rick Kelly lined up behind them after showing good pace in Friday practice.
Anton De Pasquale provided the shock of the session when he out-qualified team-mate David Reynolds, starting ninth and 17th respectively, the first time the Erebus driver has been beaten in qualifying by a team-mate. All three Triple Eight cars failed to fire with Shane Van Gisbergen, Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes started in 11th, 14th and 24th respectively.
Despite being on the dirty side of the road, McLaughlin launched off the line while Coulthard bogged down, fighting with the Nissans into the first turns and dropping to fourth by the third turn. Richie Stanaway’s personal best qualifying effort of 12th turned in to nothing when he was spun by Jack Le Brocq at turn four, the pair spinning as Reynolds was caught in the ensuing melee.
Reynolds limped back to the pits with damaged suspension while De Pasquale dropped down the order after being pushed off the track by the gastro-riddled James Courtney. Stanaway’s reemergence to the track came at an awkward time as the leaders came past, allowing McLaughlin to open an air gap to Caruso.
Whincup and Cam Waters pitted from the mid-pack on lap five, coming in for two tyres each, rears and right side respectively, and coming back out on track in clear air. Caruso and Tim Slade followed suit on the next lap, the Nissan showing good pace behind McLaughlin before his stop.
McLaughlin and Rick Kelly reacted on the next lap, both jumping Caruso though a quick stop for the race leader meant he had a bigger gap than two laps prior. Coulthard came in from effective fourth soon after, splitting the Nissan Altima pairing of Kelly and Caruso, promoting himself into an effective third place.
Slade started to hound the rear of Caruso who was struggling for lap speed as Whincup ranged up on the back of the BJR pilot. A few laps down the track, Caruso’s tyres came up to pressure and he was able to put a gap on the battle pack behind him.
Coulthard applied the pressure to Kelly at the halfway mark of the race, looking to make it a DJR Team Penske one-two as McLaughlin extended his lead up front. Scott Pye and Van Gisbergen led the way on the road, both putting in personal best laps despite not pitting yet past the half way mark in the race.
Pye came in on lap 25, taking four new tyres on his Walkinshaw Andretti United Commodore, emerging from the pits ahead of Caruso, effectively fourth on road. Whincup on old tyres started to fall like a stone through the pack, becoming a cork in the bottle as his lap pace fell away.
Van Gisbergen pitted from the race lead on lap 27, suffering a slow stop thanks to an issue with the right front tyre, coming out ahead of Slade but struggling on the cold rubber in the opening corners. Pye on fresh rubber got ahead of Coulthard with ease for third place and ranged up to the back of Kelly for second.
A late race excursion to the gravel trap for Tim Blanchard brought out the safety car with ten laps left, bunching the pack up in favour of Pye and Van Gisbergen who were third and fifth respectively on the road with the fastest laps of the race under their belts.
The race restarted on lap 34 as McLaghlin bungled the restart, running wide at the turn one chicane and dropping back to fifth at the end of the opening lap. Rick Kelly assumed the lead while Pye and Van Gisbergen squabbled behind him for second.
Despite coming under pressure, nothing could stop Kelly from taking the win while the pair behind him remained unchanged. The DJR Team Penske duo of Coulthard and McLaughlin completed the top five with Caruso, Slade, Tander, Courtney and Winterbottom rounded out the top ten. Craig Lowndes was one of the big mvoer of the race, finishing 13th while Whincup went backwards, coming home in a lowly 17th.
Pic via Nissan Motorsport