Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell have won the 2018 Sandown 500 after dominating the day’s proceedings, converting a front row start to victory through spending almost all of the race in the lead.
The #1 Triple Eight Engineering car was strong out of the truck on Friday, topping both practice sessions early in the day before grabbing provisional pole on Saturday and then the warm-up on Sunday.
Dumbrell’s opening stint saw the two-time Super2 champion open up a lead as big as 20 seconds before handing over to the defending and seven time series champion after he had completed his minimum number of laps, Whincup remaining in control of the race until lap 161.
The win headed up a one-two-three finish for Triple Eight as the #97 car of Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber finished second with the #888 of Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards took the final stop on the podium.
Luke Youlden onboard the #9 Erebus car started from pole after he and co-driver David Reynolds combined to win Saturday’s qualifying races for the grid. Unique to Sandown, the grid for Sunday’s 500km feature race was set by a regular qualifying session and two 20 lap sprints (one for co-drivers, one for regular drivers).
A mid-race hailstorm in the first race meant some teams like the Red Bull Holden Racing Team pairing of Paul Dumbrell and Earl Bamber gambled on taking wet tyres while their championship rivals at DJR Team Penske stayed out on slicks. The big winner in race one was Aaren Russell, driving with Andre Heimgartner for Nissan, who put the #7 Altima on pole for the main drivers race.
Amongst the regular drivers, it was Whincup who made the blast through the pack in the final race for the grid, pulling off some high risk passes from 11th on the grid to take position two for Sunday’s race after hounding David Reynolds in the Erebus Commodore late in the race. The all Holden front row was complemented by the all-DJR Team Penske second row with Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat starting third and the sister #12 car next to them, driven by Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto.
Completing the top ten, Mark Winterbottom/Dean Canto, Andre Heimgartner/Aaren Russell, Chaz Mostert/James Moffat, Tim Slade/Ash Walsh, Anton de Pasquale/Will Brown and Craig Lowndes/Steven Richards finished strongly in the second race for the grid.
Youlden bogged down off the line, losing the lead into turn one to Dumbrell in the #1 car. The #9 car lost spots to Premat in the #17 and Canto in the #5 on the run to turn one, slotting back to fourth as Dumbrell and Premat started to run away on the opening tour.
A tangle at turn three resulted in the #33 GRM car being turned around by the #21 car with Dale Wood onboard, lightly making contact with the wall as Chris Pither dropped to the back of the pack. The incident was the only hiccup in the opening lap, contrasting previous years where the race has been red flagged before the end of lap one.
Contact between Brown and Aaren Russell on lap seven turned the #7 Nissan at turn one, the Altima luckily not being collected by the ensuing pack including Moffat who was the first on the scene.
While Dumbrell ran away at the front and Premat had clear air, Youlden became the cork in the bottle for the pack behind him. Sitting behind the polesitter was D’Alberto, Brown, Richards and Bamber all within a few car lengths of each other, wanting to each move up a spot against the wounded #9 car.
Richards was the first of the front pack to pit on lap 19, wanting to get out of the busy battle pack for fourth. D’Alberto came in next, emerging from the lane just ahead of Richards but the #888 car got past at turn two on warmer tyres.
Youlden pitted on the lap after, having a slow stop due to repairing damage sustained on the opening lap. The slow stop meant he came out behind the other two as well as Warren Luff and Garry Jacobson, quickly being passed by leader Paul Dumbrell who was enjoying a 18 second lead over Premat.
The first safety car of the race came out on lap 23 after the Dean Fiore/Michael Caruso car pulled up on the back straight with a broken steering arm due to contact with James Courtney, slowly limping it back under controlled conditions. The caution period meant everyone who hadn’t yet pitted came in for their first stops with the corrected order being Dumbrell, Richards, Premat, D’Alberto, Brown, Canto, Jacobson, Luff, Bamber and Youlden.
Racing restarted for the first time on lap 26 with Dumbrell leading the pack to the green flag, dragging Richards with him at the front as the Triple Eight cars put a gap on the DJR Team Penske pair behind them. Brown in the #99 Erebus car wouldn’t let the red Shell cars run away, staying close to the Falcons as the top five put a gap on the rest of the field.
Bamber started to fight on lap 37, getting past Youlden at turn one but luckily not ending up in the fence at turn two after the pair made contact. A poor run out of turn four from the Erebus car made him vulnerable to Moffat in the #55 who got past on the approach to turn six.
The reigning World Endurance champion continued his charge, muscling his way past Luff, Jacobson and Canto within a handful of laps, getting into clear air. His team-mate up front was extending his lead even further with Dumbrell nearly putting the length of the front straight on Richards who was enjoying a gap over the DJR Team Penske Falcons behind him.
After completing the minimum number of required laps, Richards, Premat, Brown and Bamber came in to hand over to the full-time drivers on lap 56. While Lowndes came out first, a shorter stop for van Gisbergen’s #97 car meant he jumped McLaughlin and de Pasquale.
As D’Alberto pitted and handed the car over to Coulthard, the #18 car of Jason Bright and Lee Holdsworth ended up in the sand trap at turn nine, bringing out the safety car. Whincup took over from Dumbrell as the leader pitted under the safety car, coming out in the lead.
After all cars cycled through the pits for their stops, the order became Whincup, Lowndes, Coulthard, van Gisbergen, McLaughlin, de Pasquale, Reynolds, Winterbottom, Percat and Mostert in the top ten. Racing resumed with just under 100 laps left on lap 62, the order remaining the same on the opening tour up front.
van Gisbergen started to dial in the #97 early on in his stint, getting up close to the bumper of Coulthard in the #12 Falcon as the sister #17 car remained in fifth. Whincup and Lowndes stretched the gap out front while Coulthard and van Gisbergen, on lower loads of fuel, battled it out with McLaughlin tucked in behind, sitting in a much better position fuel wise.
Coulthard finally relegated third to van Gisbergen on lap 81, making it a Triple Eight top three as the two DJRTP cars followed with Reynolds and de Pasquale for Erebus behind them. McLaughlin and Coulthard swapped positions on lap 85, meaning the second placed man in the championship could chase down the points leader in van Gisbergen.
Reynolds came in for his stop including brake pads on lap 88, returning to the track in relatively clear air. Lowndes and Coulthard followed suit on the next lap with the #888 clear of the pack while Coulthard was undercut by Reynolds thanks to the earlier stop.
McLaughlin came in on lap 91, only just being lapped by Whincup as van Gisbergen pitted on the next tour, returning to the track far ahead of McLaughlin who was battling with Reynolds for effective fourth in the race. Whincup’s stop from the lead came on lap 94 without dropping a spot.
A short-filled Rick Kelly came under fire with 50 laps to go from McLaughlin as he struggled to keep up with the pace of the top teams. McLaughlin passing the Nissan elevated him to fourth, still a great way behind the leading Triple Eight cars who had Whincup leading Lowndes from van Gisbergen.
Kelly came in for his final stop on the critcal lap, 122 laps into the race with just under 40 left. Coulthard was next as on-track, van Gisbergen passed Lowndes for second place after the #888 car lost pace in the dying laps of the stint.
Reynolds’ last stop happened on lap 125, only reemerging a few car lengths behind Lowndes. McLaughlin hit the lane next, returning to the track ahead of Lowndes who hadn’t yet stopped as van Gisbergen came in on lap 128, returning to the track in clear air despite a long stop.
Lowndes was next to come in, ending up between van Gisbergen and McLaughlin on the road, while Whincup followed suit a few laps later. After all the top runners completed their stops, the order revleaed itself as Whincup, van Gisbergen, Lowndes, McLaughlin, Reynolds, Pye, Coulthard, Kelly, Tander and Mostert as the top ten runners.
In the final ten laps, the Triple Eight cars remained up front while McLaughlin kept fighting hard to make sure Reynolds would stay behind him, the Erebus car looking more comfortable late in the race than the DJRTP machine.
McLaughlin was able to hold off Reynolds as Whincup took the win with clear space ahead of van Gisbergen and Lowndes, making it a Triple Eight podium lockout for the first time in an endurance race. The positional difference between van Gisbergen and McLaughlin in the race means the #97 now leads the #17 by 55 points in the title race.
After McLaughlin/Premat and Reynolds/Youlden, Pye/Luff, Coulthard/D’Alberto, Kelly/Jacobson, Tander/Pither and Mostert/Moffat finished in the top ten after the 161 lap race.