Weekend Wrap: Castrol Gold Coast 600

2015 Pirtek Enduro Cup winners Garth Tander and Warren Luff
Garth Tander and Warren Luff hold aloft the 2015 Pirtek Enduro Cup. Photo: Rhys Vandersyde

With the iconic Surfers Paradise providing the backdrop, the V8 Supercars battled it out over the renowned street circuit in the final round of the Pirtek Enduro Cup, the Gold Coast 600. Competing for up to 300 championship points, the weekend’s sessions were also the final chance for co-drivers to prove their speed in an effort to secure a seat for next year’s endurance races. As usual, the cream rose to the top, as well as a successful return for an old champion.

Saturday Qualifying
For the first race of the weekend, it was Shane Van Gisbergen who nabbed provisional pole, managing to pip Jamie Whincup to the line, putting him in prime position for the Top-Ten shootout. Rick Kelly, Scott McLaughlin, Tim Slade, Mark Winterbottom, James Moffat, Garth Tander, Craig Lowndes and David Reynolds also made it into the ten. Fabian Coulthard and Cam Waters were the shock results of the session, coming to the flag in 14th and 19th respectively.

In the shootout, Reynolds was the first on track, but was immediately beaten by Lowndes. Tander was next out but failed to beat either of his predecessors. Wringing everything out of his Altima, Moffat briefly topped the standings, before Winterbottom knocked the Nissan driver off the perch. Slade was unlucky in his lap, unable to piece together the sectors and only coming home ahead of Tander. McLaughlin put in one of his trademark one-lap flyers, edging out Winterbottom, while Rick Kelly out-qualified team-mate Moffat, but had to settle for a provisional third place. Six-time champion Whincup was up next, struggling the whole lap with rear grip, almost having to bail out of the beginning chicane and clouting the wall at the end of the second sector. This, combined with a massive slide into the final hairpin, meant that he would start from no higher than sixth. Last up it was the other young Kiwi, Van Gisbergen. The Tekno Autosports driver was down on McLaughlin in all sectors until the last where he was able to punch the throttle down the straight and take the Armor All Pole Position.

Race One
With all of the co-drivers starting the race on hard tyres, it was Jonathon Webb in the #97 Tekno Holden that got the jump off the line, going into turn one followed by Frenchman Alexandre Prémat in the #33 Volvo and David Russell in the #15 Nissan Altima. While the action was close at the back of the track along the beach, all drivers managed to get through the first lap unscathed. Paul Dumbrell in the unlucky Red Bull Racing Holden provided the first incident of the day, losing the rear under braking into turn 4 and spinning Taz Douglas. Later on in the lap, he then turned into Dean Canto’s #55 Bottle-O Racing machine, putting the #1 car into the barrier and damaging the splitter. Dumbrell was forced to pit and park the car in the garage after the team struggled to fit a new bumper. Meanwhile, Webb and Prémat stretched their lead over the pack out the front, keeping a high amount of pace in clean air. Further back, Steve Richards in the #888 Red Bull car was in a multiple-lap dogfight with #22 Holden Racing Team co-driver Warren Luff.

A couple of places behind, Marcos Ambrose got by stand-in driver Russell Ingall in the DMC Falcon, who then went side-by-side down the back straight with Sebastien Bourdais. Although Ingall backed off earlier for the chicane, he tagged the Walkinshaw car, forcing both of them to straight-line the chicanes though the Bourdais did not surrender his position. Prémat seemed to be struggling with his Volvo after striking a tyre barrier at the back chicane, hurting the splitter. Even though he was losing time to Webb because of the damage, he didn’t back off, again hitting the same barrier twice more in his stint. With the end of lap 34 signalling the end of the race for many co-drivers, their mandatory lap numbers up, the GRM team managed to change the splitter. But there was more drama at the front of the pit lane when Winterbottom, who had only just jumped behind the wheel of his Falcon, ran into the Holden of Tander from his pit box. The Championship leader was given a drive-through penalty for the unsafe release and spent several laps in the garage while his Ford was repaired. In an effort to salvage some points, Winterbottom rejoined the race on lap 50 but could only manage 23rd.

James Courtney proved that he hadn’t lost any speed since his incident at Sydney Motorsport Park, hounding the back of team-mate Tander, in the first of several incidents between the two team-mates. Coulthard, Bright and Holdsworth were caught in a battle with Bright muscling his way past his BJR stable-mate. While the two made contact, it wasn’t enough to give Holdsworth a good enough run to get past. On lap 62, Tander got out of the pits ahead of van Gisbergen, keeping him on the lead lap. However, at the hairpin, he locked both front brakes, potentially damaging his tyres for the rest of the stint. Lowndes made the mistake a lap later but wasn’t close to any other cars. McLaughlin came in on lap 62, a leak from somewhere on the car causing concern, leaving the team no option but to pull it into the garage. Bright was forced into the pits on lap 65 for a radiator change, meaning hot work for the car’s mechanics. Van Gisbergen pitted from the lead on lap 68, emerging with a large lead over Reynolds and Rick Kelly who were in a battle with Lowndes and Courtney. Reynolds was able to stretch away from the pack with Kelly holding up Lowndes and the others. Finally able to get by, and taking Courtney with him, the rest queued up behind the struggling Altima. Tander was first to have a crack but only managed to mount the Nissan. A few laps later and the order still hadn’t changed, much to the annoyance of Tander and it wasn’t until lap 78 before he finally got by.

Will Davison thought he’d take advantage of the misfortune of others, trying to get past Slade and Kelly in one move, though in the process he lost a position to Coulthard. Coulthard then made a move on Tim Slade just before the safety car made its first appearance of the day. The race went 85 laps under green flags, an amazing achievement for the crazy Surfers Paradise track. On the restart, the two Walkinshaw Racing cars collided, after Will Davison tapped Tim Slade into a spin, and causing major damage to Lee Holdsworth’s Holden. Davison was later given a pit lane penalty for causing Slade’s spin, taking him out of a strong position. Later in the lap, Andre Heimgartner baulked the pack, causing the two HRT cars to make contact again. While Lowndes was riding the bumper of Reynolds, hounding the Falcon around the track, Tander closed up on the battle, bringing himself into podium contention. At the chequered flag, it was the van Gisbergen/Webb pairing that took out the win ahead of Reynolds/Canto and Lowndes/Richards, while Tander was forced to settle for fourth and Courtney got fifth on his return.

Sunday Qualifying
The weekend’s final qualifying session saw a familiar face return to the top of the timesheets. McLaughlin was able to nab his 13th career pole position after putting in a clean lap around the street circuit. Lowndes took second alongside the Kiwi, completing a lap that was under 0.1 seconds slower than McLaughlin’s. Van Gisbergen, Whincup, Winterbottom, Pye, Tander, Slade, Reynolds and Holdsworth completed the top ten.

Sunday Race
Richards got the jump off the line, beating Prémat to the first turn. Like the day before, all drivers were able to get through the first lap without any notable incidents. Dumbrell ran through the first chicane on the second lap while attacking Webb, nearly losing a place to Owen. On lap eight, Ant Pedersen in the Super Black Ford turned down into fellow Kiwi Chris Pither, putting his car in the tyre wall and seriously damaging the Volvo which had to park a few streets down the road. The safety car was deployed, bunching the pack back up. When the racing resumed, Richards stretched a one second lap over Prémat on the first lap alone, putting the #888 into a strong strategy position. Dumbrell was able to pass Webb, putting himself into a top three position and proving that Saturday’s mistake was a one-time deal.

One-third of the way in and all co-drivers completed their minimum lap requirements, with cars #888, #33, #97, #5, #55, #22, #18, #99, #222 and #15 jumping into the pit lane for tyres, fuel and new drivers. Rick Kelly only had a relatively short fuel stop after the Nissan took on fuel during Russell’s stint. Whincup, Slade and Tander got in their cars next, with all of the main drivers running on the soft Dunlop tyres. Bright had to come into the pits for repairs after smacking the tyre bundles along the beach chicanes, breaking his bumper. Tim Blanchard also came in after his window net came out of place.
On lap 54, the safety car was deployed to clean up debris, causing a melee in the pit lane. Entering his pit box, Dale Wood ran into Pye’s tyres, narrowly avoiding hitting the DJR/Tekno mechanics. Pye was released from his box into the path of Rick Kelly’s Nissan, earning him a drive-through penalty. Courtney decided to stop a few laps into the safety car period, sending him to the back of the pack but with enough fuel to get to the end if he conserved well. Winterbottom and Coulthard pitted on lap 62, followed by Whincup and Moffat the next lap. Lowndes was the next to get fuel on lap 68, coming out ahead of Whincup and giving McLaughlin the lead. Courtney kept slicing past cars, having to conserve his fuel usage while also maintaining the gap to his chasing rivals. McLaughlin soon pitted, giving Percat the lead. However, the LDM driver had to pit for a splash of fuel, taking him out of the running.

In the dying laps, Courtney was able to maintain a gap over Rick Kelly, who seemed comfortable with the amount of fuel in his Nissan. Tander was quickly closing up on the pair but had to find eight seconds over two laps. Kelly remained ahead while Courtney was untouched, giving him an emotional win. In his first weekend back since a freak injury in Sydney, Courtney took the flag ahead of Rick Kelly and Tander. Lowndes, van Gisbergen, McLaughlin, Whincup, Moffat, Reynolds and Caruso rounded out the top ten.

Castrol Gold Coast 600 Winners and Losers

With the endurance season now over, it’s important to note that there were no repeat winners over the four races. Some teams that performed well on a track like Sandown struggled around the Gold Coast streets. While one pair was given the trophy for being the best over the four races, one driver must be particularly happy after his performance around the Surfers Paradise track.

Winners

  1. Craig Lowndes inches closer to Mark Winterbottom in the championship standings after a solid weekend around the Gold Coast circuit. Despite struggling at Sandown, he and co-driver Richards managed to notch up some solid finishes in the endurance season. Winterbottom lost 141 points to Lowndes over th weekend and Lowndes now trails the Ford driver by only 258 points in the championship. If there was ever a time to notice Lowndes’ trademark end-of-season form, this is it.
  2. Garth Tander and Warren Luff showed that you don’t need to win to win, taking out the Pirtek Enduro Cup without actually scoring a victory over the four races. Luff has proved himself as one of the best co-drivers in the field, now winning the cup twice, his first with Craig Lowndes in 2013. Tander has now moved into fourth in the championship, closing in on Winterbottom, Lowndes and Reynolds.
  3. James Courtney and Jack Perkins proved their critics wrong by taking out the Sunday race around Surfers Paradise. In a race where many questioned if Courtney’s return was premature, the pair used a superior strategy to give Perkins his first V8 Supercars win and Courtney his first victory since the Clipsal 500 in March. Clearly emotional, Perkins’ efforts at Sandown and Bathurst were rewarded and his name is now with his dad on the list of V8 Supercars race winners. Courtney pushed through the pain of racing with healed ribs to record one of his most popular victories.

Losers

  1. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell finished the Enduro Cup in 15th, one position behind the Mostert/Waters/Ingall car, despite the #6 Falcon missing out on a whole round of the cup. Despite a solid seventh in Sunday’s race, the damage sustained on Saturday meant they finished at the back of the field, all but confirming the belief that Whincup’s seventh championship will not come this year. Even though the results didn’t go as they planned, Dumbrell will be certain that he has a secure seat after undoubtedly being the best co-driver of the three rounds.
  2. Erebus Motorsport finally has a major sponsor for each of its cars but is failing to bring in good results. At its effective home race, the #9 machine recorded a 15th and 16th place finish on Saturday and Sunday, while the #4 came home 19th and 24th. Not what the team are looking for given Will Davison’s impending departure from the squad, leaving them without an experienced driver for 2016.
  3. Brad Jones Racing has always struggled around the Gold Coast and this weekend was no different. Coulthard/Youlden finished seventh and 13th, Wood/Macaulay Jones could only manage 11th and 20th, while Bright/Andrew Jones struggled with damage to limp home 22nd and 23rd on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Coulthard is all but out of the championship hunt, while the team is going to be searching for a new driver to drive the #14 and maybe the #21 next year.

The next round sees the series head across the ditch for the ITM 500 Auckland around the flowing Pukekohe circuit. The action kicks off on Friday the sixth of November.

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