MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia — Recap by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — V8SC photo — With a big helping hand from co-driver Paul Dumbrell, Jamie Whincup drove to victory in dominating fashion at the Wilson Security Sandown 500 on Sunday.
The #1 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore led the entirety of the 500-kilometers run, only relinquishing the lead during pit cycles. Whincup and Dumbrell became the first pair to win back-to-back Sandown 500s since 1994-95, when Dick Johnson and John Bowe posted consecutive victories.
The Holden Racing Team took the other two spots on the podium, with James Courtney and Greg Murphy finishing second, and the pairing of Garth Tander and Warren Luff finishing third. This was Tander’s first career Sandown podium after finishing in fourth on three prior occasions.
The race began with all of the co-drivers behind the wheel, save for David Reynolds.
Paul Dumbrell leapt out to a three-second lead in the opening laps.
Team BOC was under fire from the very first lap. Andrew Jones, co-driving for Jason Bright, saw his right-side door panels ripped clean off the car and come to rest onto the back straightaway. Fans would question the lack of a Safety Car for the debris when Oliver Gavin struck it on the succeeding lap and sent it flying dangerously into the path of trackside marshals, who had to take evasive action to avoid being hit.
After the first lap, David Reynolds took the spotlight, as he charged from eighth to third. He would be the focus of the race until the first major incident took place on Lap 17.
Taz Douglas, co-driving for the Norton Hornet Nissan of James Moffat, came into the pits for regular service. However, the fuel cable jammed into the socket when his team attempted to refuel the car and could not be removed. This would force the team to bring the #360 to the garage, where the fuel pump issues forced them to retire. James Moffat failed to drive a single lap of the Sandown 500 as a result, and was visibly dejected when interviewed.
“Preparation is the key to success and we probably weren’t prepared,” he said. “We had some pretty high expectations going into this week and it’s been a disaster. We can only move onto Bathurst.”
The race then went relatively quiet for the next 30 laps until the first Safety Car came out on lap 44 for a cone that had snuck onto the track.
This brought the entire field down to pit road for service, and it shook up the order significantly. Warren Luff, who was driving Garth Tander’s car, was stacked behind teammate Greg Muphy and the #2 lost valuable track position. However, that paled in comparison to what happened to Alex Prémat. Driving Scott McLaughlin’s car, Prémat was caught behind a stacked Nick Percat and could not exit pit road. Prémat was running 7th before the Safety Car; he rejoined in 13th.
The timing of the Safety Car changed the strategy of the race dramatically. Co-drivers are required to run at least 54 laps in the Sandown 500. Since the Safety Car came right before lap 54, the co-drivers ended up completing over half an additional stint beyond what was originally scheduled.
When they did come in for the driver changes during laps 81-87, David Reynolds suffered the most. He was hit with a drive-through penalty for wheel-spin (drivers are not allowed to step into the gas until their cars return to ground following servicing). Reynolds would go back to 12th; he would never fully recover from the incident and finished in ninth.
It was around the lap 120 mark, during the next round of pit stops, that action began to pick up once again. Will Davison and Nick Percat made contact at pit entry on lap 125, forcing Percat to spend part of his 26th birthday off-track as his crew made repairs.
“Old ‘Dill Wavison’, or Will Davison, put me into the wall,” Percat claimed when interviewed by Channel Seven.
Percat would be the last car to finish the event, coming home 34 laps down in 22nd.
The scariest moment of the race came on Lap 133, when Lee Holdsworth felt something break in the rear of his Erebus E63 AMG at the end of the back straightaway. He was a passenger in his own car as it hit the tire barrier at the entrance to Dandenong Road at full speed. The car was destroyed, but Holdsworth was able to walk out under his own power.
“I remember going backwards and sideways along the grass and seeing the fence coming up pretty quick,” Holdsworth said when recalling the incident. “Honestly, it was the scariest moment of my life! Before I hit I had actually closed my eyes and put my hands up in the air. I was very, very surprised when I got out of the car that I could walk.”
This brought out the second Safety Car of the event and set up a 30-lap sprint to the end. Whincup resumed his role out front when the race restarted, but the action was all in the back half in the top 10.
Chaz Mostert and his Pepsi MAX Ford Falcon had been caught out of pit sequence early on in the event when the team had trouble securing a nut on the right front tire. The Safety Car was a blessing for the #6 team, as they were able to come down to pir road for their final stop and begin the restart with the freshest tires in the field.
Mostert used the fresh rubber to full advantage, coming from tenth to sixth in the final stint of the event. Scott Pye also made a small charge late in the going, sneaking around Shane van Gisbergen to bring home the #16 Wilson Security Ford Falcon in fifth.
Pye was elated after the event.
“To get such a good result with the best mate (co-driver and best friend Ash Walsh) is special,” he said. “it’s really cool. I can’t wait to share the car with him at Bathurst and have some fun!”
Beyond those two, everything was static at the front end. Whincup cruised away on the final restart to win the event, James Courtney followed behind in second, and HRT teammate Garth Tander held off a late charge from Craig Lowndes to finish third.
“The car was unbelievably good,” Whincup said post-race. “Paul did a flawless performance and I just did the afternoon and brought it home.”
James Courtney attributed much of their success to co-driver Greg Murphy’s excellent start of the race, which saw the #22 jump from sixth to third in the opening corners.
“(Murphy) did all the work with a great start. He jumped a couple rows and we were running third!” Courtney exclaimed following the event.
Tander’s focus in his post-race interview was all on the battle with Lowndes in the closing laps.
“I was really happy with the car and the podium for me is my first third place here,” Tander said. “Lowndes wasn’t going to get me- that would’ve been the fourth I would have finished fourth!”
The V8 Supercars will be off for the next few weeks while they prepare for the most prestigious race on their calendar, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. The battle for the Peter Brock Trophy will take place on October 12th, with the race weekend beginning on October 9th.
For more information about the V8 Supercars Championship, please visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.