A familiar event at an unfamiliar point in the year, this season’s Sandown 500 moved to being held in November rather than its traditional September date but the historic Melbourne venue provided a classic Supercars story line.
From veterans at the front to young guns punching above their weight – with the added spice of some scandalous penalties – Sandown was again the scene of a great Supercars endurance race as a late race twist added to the already crazy weekend.
Rain, hail and sunshine battered the Melbourne circuit over the weekend but at the conclusion of Sunday’s race, three driver pairings walked away with the silverware while one of the top contenders came up with nothing to show for one of the season’s best performances.
Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes
Tipped to be the top contenders throughout the Enduro Cup, the dream combination of Whincup and Lowndes proved to be the best of the bunch in their first year driving together since 2009 by taking a pair of wins in their campaign.
With Lowndes only fresh out of a full-time seat at the end of last season and Whincup coming to Sandown as the reigning event champion, things got off to a flying start when Lowndes converted a front row start to the lead of Sandown’s first qualifying race. With the #888 starting from pole for race two, Whincup was able to put in a classic, methodical drive to claim pole for Sunday’s 500-kilometre race.
A perfect conversion off the start line put Lowndes clear into the lead in the opening stint, handing the car over to the seven-time champion in the best position possible to take the win. Despite losing the lead to teammate Shane van Gisbergen, a mechanical failure for the sister car handed the #888 car the race lead, resulting in the Sandown 500 victory and with it, the Enduro Cup for 2019. The Sandown victory was the first for their pair since 2007 when they won the pre-Bathurst warm-up en route to sweeping the two endurance races that season and moved Lowndes on to six victories in the event, equal second on the all-time winners list behind his mentor Peter Brock.
Chaz Mostert and James Moffat
What a rebound for a pair of drivers who have had possibly the hardest endurance campaign, although arguably all through their own doing. A second placed finish in the Sandown 500 was a big reward for Moffat who was one of the strongest performers at Bathurst, only for Mostert to undo their hard work with a crash in the iconic event, followed by writing off the #55 Mustang before the first race in the Gold Coast.
Donning the colours of Allan Moffat’s 1969 Trans-Am Ford Mustang in a tribute to the four-time Australian Touring Car Champion, the younger Moffat nearly undid their hard work early in the weekend with a spin after tagging teammate Thomas Randle in the co-driver race, giving Mostert the hard job to do in the main drivers’ final sprint for the grid.
Sunday was an altogether more consistent day for the pair, not putting a foot wrong all day and finally posting a result across the endurance races, standing on the podium for the first time together since winning last year’s Gold Coast 600 Saturday race. What made the result even more special was that it fell on Allan Moffat’s 80th birthday with the legend present to see his son collect the well-earned silverware, stepping into the public eye after his recently published battle with Alzheimer’s Disease became known.
Lee Holdsworth and Thomas Randle
As far as bromances go, this is one of the strongest despite an age and experience gap between the Tickford Racing combination. Although Holdsworth has been around for a while and has endured a tough, possibly even unlucky, season, Randle made his endurance debut this season and put himself out there as one of the stars to look forward to watch in the future.
Fifth for Randle in car #5 in the co-drivers’ race gave Holdsworth a good opportunity to set the pair up for Sunday. Holdsworth slipped back to seventh in his sprint race, but an impressive start and opening stint from the young gun meant they were again fighting towards the top of the order when Holdsworth got in to complete the race.
Coming home in third behind the sister #55 car, the result capped off a great weekend for both drivers and gave the duo their first podium of 2019 in the main game. With Holdsworth likely staying on at Tickford next season, Randle may have to spend a third year in Super2 but with performances like this season, it won’t be long until he gets his chance at the top of the sport.
Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander
With just over ten laps to go, it looked like the #97 car would put itself at the top of this list as well as the top of the podium. That was until a bolt worked itself loose in the rear of the Triple Eight Commodore, forcing van Gisbergen to come in from the lead and out of contention from winning the Enduro Cup.
It was a big weekend for the experienced duo, Tander qualifying the car third for van Gisbergen’s last qualifying race before the title contender messed up a pass on the inside of Anton de Pasquale, taking himself out of the race and putting them at the rear of the grid for Sunday’s race.
Clinical stints from both drivers not only meant they worked their way up the order; they found themselves in the genuine race lead late in the race, driving away from Whincup with pace in hand. Until the aforementioned suspension failure, it could have been one of the greatest upsets in Sandown history, winning from the last row against a super strong field of drivers.
Alas, the racing gods didn’t think the same way and 17th place is all that could be mustered after going a few laps down. Though his hopes of a second title were slim, van Gisbergen’s failure to win the race handed the championship to Scott McLaughlin, bringing an end to the late-season fightback from the Triple Eight driver.
Kostecki Brothers Racing
Bringing the privateer spirit back to Supercars, the Kostecki Brothers Racing entry of cousins Jake and Brodie (still following along?) had promise across the four endurance races but ultimately the young pair showed their inexperience in most outings.
Jake was unable to get higher than 21st in the co-drivers race but Brodie was able to star in the main drivers’ outing, qualifying the car in eighth for Sunday’s big race thanks to a superb start on wet-weather tyres.
Mayhem off the start thanks to Alex Davison stalling meant the #56 KBR car was up to fourth in the opening few corners. From there the day went downhill as someone forgot to send the boys a memo that the biff and barge days of touring cars are over and only really worked when everyone agreed to do it.
After contact with several other entries, the line was finally drawn when Michael Caruso was bumped into the wall, breaking the #6 car’s steering before main driver Cam Waters could get on board. While they eventually came home in 16th, the Kostecki cousins showed they still need to do a lot of learning before a full-time opportunity in Supercars becomes a reality.
David Reynolds and Luke Youlden
This may seem particularly harsh given Reynolds’ performance in the main drivers race which put the Erebus entry into third on the grid, fighting at the front when many of their close rivals were further back.
However, no one ever cares about Saturday performances when Sunday is the day that pays the bills and gets the attention.
Unfortunately for Youlden, a few too many bad Sundays this year have taken him down a few pegs from being one of the highest regarded co-drivers in the field. Engaged in a three-way battle with Richard Muscat and Dale Wood, Youlden ended any hopes of a good result when he tangled with Wood on the back straight, making contact out of Turn 4 as he tried to capitalise on a good run out of the corner as Wood did the same with Muscat.
A spin and crash into the fence took the #9 car out of the race, adding to Youlden’s hard endurance season and dropping Reynolds to sixth in the championship race. Amazingly, Youlden has never raced as a full-time driver in the series despite featuring for 20 years in the endurance races; something which Erebus may consider as a weakness moving forwards.
Scott McLaughlin claims back-to-back titles
It would be impossible not to mention the elephant in the room of car #17. Sandown was a big weekend for DJR Team Penske and Scott McLaughlin; coming in to the round only needing to finish Sunday’s race to being sent to the rear of the grid thanks to the Bathurst qualifying engine being found to operate outside of its technical parameters.
While both “parity” and “tainted” have been the buzzwords this year to describe McLaughlin’s 2019 championship campaign, nothing could stop the champion from defending his title with 18 wins this year and unbelievable consistency.
McLaughlin will be able to celebrate in Newcastle where he will undoubtedly be officially crowned as the champion as his team still fights Triple Eight for the Teams’ Championship title. Sending off the year, and the Nissan Altima, with a bang, the season-ending Newcastle 500 will be held from the 22nd to 24th of November.