PHILLIP ISLAND, Victoria, Australia — Report by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Robert Cianflone/Getty Images AsiaPac photo —
Never give up.
Those three words capture perfectly the emotion and storyline behind the final outcome of Sunday’s Race 35 at the Plus Fitness Phillip Island 400, a finish that changed so quickly and dramatically that it even caught the drivers off-guard.
After leading over half of the 200 km race, Garth Tander ran out of fuel 100 meters from the finish line, and Scott McLaughlin was able to capitalize on Tander’s misfortune to claim his fourth victory of 2014.
McLaughlin was both excited and sympathetic to Tander’s situation on the podium.
“I’m so pumped right now, but I feel for Garthy,” McLaughlin said. “That’s all I had, and if it wasn’t for that fuel problem, he would have won the race. I’ve seen it happen before, but I never, ever thought that that would happen to me!”
The win was McLaughlin’s sixth career V8SC triumph in just his second full-time season in the championship.
“I’m so glad and so happy for the team. That’s a big effort for our little team down in Dandenong South!”
Tander tried to cope with his mishap by drawing positives from an unfortunate situation after coming so close to his 54th career win.
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes,” Tander lamented. “I can’t thank our guys enough. We were thinking that this really wasn’t going to be one of our stronger tracks this year, but the guys did an awesome job in the lead-up to the race. The car was fantastic all weekend. I’ve come up about 100 meters short, but thanks to all our guys and our supporters. Looking forward to Sydney.”
Second place in the championship, Mark Winterbottom finished third and said he had nothing more in his race car to challenge the front two.
“I’m pretty happy with that,” Winterbottom said. “When you can get the best result out of all you’ve got, then that’s what you’ve gotta be happy with.”
He did chuckle though after he climbed from his car, and said he didn’t realize either what had happened up front at first on the cool-down lap.
“That was a pretty epic battle — I wondered why McLaughlin was doing donuts and (Garth) Tander had come in,” said Winterbottom, who extended his hold on second in the championship over Craig Lowndes to 95 points.
Champion-elect Jamie Whincup finished fourth and Shane van Gisbergen rallied from a tough Saturday to complete the top five.
Will Davison, Jason Bright, Nick Percat, Michael Caruso, and Lowndes rounded out the top ten at the finish, with Lowndes having a tough day after only being able to muster 15th in qualifying.
Whincup was jumped from the pole position on the opening lap by both McLaughlin and Tander in the opening corners of the circuit. From there, pit strategy became the main story of the race, as teams short-pitted in an effort to outwit one another to the checkered flag. By the time the pit cycle had been completed on lap 14, Tander had used his pit stop to take the lead from McLaughlin, and Mark Winterbottom had jumped Whincup to take third.
Everything changed, however, when the lone Safety Car of the race came out a lap later for David Wall’s #17 Ford Falcon. Wall had lost the power steering in the final corner and had sailed off into the gravel trap. As crews came to retrieve his car to pit lane, the race strategy changed for the rest of the field, and everyone headed back down pit road for another round of pit stops.
The top four left pit road unchanged, but there was commotion in the lane behind them, as Jack Perkins was stacked behind David Reynolds. As Perkins waited to enter the pit box, his car sat in the middle of pit lane — and held up every single car behind him that was waiting for service.
Reynolds, incidentally, would leave his pit box right as Jason Bright was passing by, and was served a pass-through penalty for an unsafe release from his pit box. The Bottle-O Racing car finished 23rd.
From the restart on lap 18, the majority of the rest of the race focused on the battle between McLaughlin and Tander. Tander was able to hold his lead around a second for 14 laps. It was on lap 32 that McLaughlin began to cut into Tander’s lead, and three laps later, the Garry Rogers Motorsport Volvo was on the rear bumper of the Holden Racing Team Commodore.
McLaughlin spent the final 10 laps searching all but in vain for a way to get around Tander. Even though the Volvo was the faster of the two cars, Scott failed to complete the pass for the lead.
To make matters worse, McLaughlin lost half a second to Tander when he got loose in Siberia with three laps to go. That mistake would have cost him a chance at the race win in normal circumstances — it was only Tander’s fuel issues that allowed Scott to close the gap again and complete the pass for the victory.
The V8 Supercars will conclude their season with a final weekend of racing at the Sydney Olympic Park from December 6-8.
For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, please visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.