After 36 races and 11 months of racing, the V8 Supercars championship title fight came down to the final round in Sydney yet again. And with a single race remaining, one driver finally sealed the title that has eluded him for ten years.
For race one, of the Sydney 500 it was Mark Winterbottom who conquered his demons for the second qualifying session in a row running putting his Falcon in prime position and edging closer to a maiden title. However, for title rival Craig Lowndes, disaster struck with the Red Bull Holden in the tyre wall as the chequered flag fell, leaving him to start the encounter from the rear of the grid. Shane van Gisbergen put his Tekno Commodore alongside Winterbottom while the next row was filled by James Courtney and Jason Bright. Jamie Whincup, Tim Slade, Rick Kelly, James Moffat, Garth Tander and Scott McLaughlin rounded out the top ten.
Race two’s qualifying was more sedate with Whincup adding another pole to his career tally, with David Reynolds lining up alongside him, narrowly pipping Van Gisbergen into third place. Winterbottom would line up fourth while Courtney nabbed fifth. McLaughlin, Scott Pye, Lee Holdsworth, Lowndes and Bright completed the top-ten.
Winterbottom made a great jump from the line to maintain the lead around the first lap, but not wanting to take any risks, the championship leader allowed Shane van Gisbergen through on the second lap, before slipping down the order to fifth as the race progressed. The first round of stops began early with Van Gisbergen, Whincup and Slade diving into the lane, Whincup jumping the Tekno Autosports entry with van Gisbergen’s release delayed due to an oncoming car. Bright and Courtney took their stops, coming out ahead of Winterbottom but behind Whincup and Van Gisbergen, while Lowndes stayed out and had to hustle to get past Steve Owen in the #6 Falcon. At the pointy end of the pack, Whincup took the flag ahead of Van Gisbergen and Bright. Courtney came home fourth while Winterbottom claimed fifth and a valuable points haul with Lowndes recovering to finish 15th. Slade, Rick Kelly, McLaughlin, Reynolds and Coulthard rounded out the top ten.
For the first time in the history of the Sydney 500, there was no safety car intervention, although James Moffat’s Nissan did suffer sizeable damage to the right front after Moffat and Whincup made contact at turn one, leaving the outgoing Nissan driver down in 24th at the race’s conclusion.
With Lowndes’ poor finish in the opening race and Winterbottom’s strong form, the Ford man only had to finish 21st in Saturday’s second race to secure the championship. Race two saw Whincup get off to the best start ahead of Reynolds, leading into turn one and building up a healthy lead over the opening laps. Winterbottom again got off to a good start, nabbing third place from Courtney. On lap ten, the first safety car of the weekend was deployed to recover the #6 Prodrive Falcon in the hands of Steve Owen, which came to a stop on the run between turns one and two. His retirement would put a serious dent in Prodrive’s aspirations to secure the team’s championship. Other than this, the race was relatively incident free with drivers settling into a rhythm and keeping away from each other. However, James Moffat provided a spectacle when he ran off at the turn two chicane, obliterating the car’s front-right suspension as he launched over the kerbs. Whincup kept an easy lead over Reynolds while Winterbottom had a safe gap to Courtney. The positions remained the same to the flag as Whincup added to his career wins tally, Reynolds got another podium and Winterbottom secured a maiden V8 Supercars title with a third place finish, an unassailable 220-point lead over Lowndes. Behind Winterbottom, Courtney finished in fourth, McLaughlin in fifth, van Gisbergen sixth, Lowndes seventh, Rick Kelly eighth, Pye ninth and Holdsworth in tenth.
Sunday was a day of “lasts”, beginning with the last qualifying session of the year. As the clock ticked down into the final minutes, the field headed out of the pits to put in their fast laps on fresh rubber. Van Gisbergen emerged on provisional pole ahead of fellow Kiwi McLaughlin, with the line-up for the top ten shootout comprising Winterbottom, Rick Kelly, Whincup, Courtney, Reynolds, Michael Caruso, David Wall and Tim Slade.
Top Ten Shootout
Slade was the first on track and put in a strong first lap, staying off the walls. Next was Wall in his first ever top ten appearance in his final V8 Supercars race, having lost his Volvo seat for 2016. He couldn’t match Slade’s pace, ending up 0.8 seconds down on the Supercheap Holden. Slade remained top as Caruso couldn’t match Slade’s pace. Next up, Reynolds jumped to the top with an exciting lap, but after posting a brilliant final sector Courtney moved to provisional pole having been down on Reynolds throughout his lap. Whincup had a strong first half of his lap but couldn’t match the HRT car’s pace at the end, slotting in behind him. Rick Kelly was the same, dropping between Reynolds and Whincup. Winterbottom had a decent lap but he couldn’t beat Courtney or Whincup. McLaughlin’s first two sectors were stellar but he struggled in the final third of the lap, falling between Reynolds and Slade. Last up, van Gisbergen kept Courtney honest but couldn’t topple him, finishing a close second to give the Holden factory driver the final pole position of the year.
The year’s final race got underway with Courtney leading van Gisbergen on the opening lap. On lap two, Alex Davison and Owen found the tyre walls, making it a weekend to forget for both Erebus and Prodrive in the teams championship. At the front, the leading pair pulled away from Winterbottom, when on lap three van Gisbergen went for a move up the inside at turn nine. Courtney closed the door on him and the two collided, resulting in the Sydney-sider backing the HRT car into the tyre wall as van Gisbergen took the lead. Courtney was effectively out of the running as he later pitted for the team to assess the damage, taking a while in the pit lane as the field streaked by. Slade was the first casualty of the race, a stuck throttle preventing him from making the penultimate turn, resulting in the Walkinshaw Holden being destroyed in his last race for the team. The safety car was deployed, leading to a flurry of activity in the pit lane. Winterbottom was the biggest loser, dropping on-track positions thanks to a long fuel stop.
Racing resumed on lap 14, van Gisbergen leading Whincup and Rick Kelly. A few laps later, heart-rates jumped when Garth Tander, Fabian Coulthard and future team-mate Scott Pye went three-wide on the run down to turn two, with Tander emerging as the victor as the other two backed out of the move. Van Gisbergen stretched out his lead to over five seconds as he was on a tighter fuel strategy than Whincup. With the six-time champion in prime position to take victory after the last round of stops, he locked a brake into turn eight and had to fire down the escape road, losing a place to Rick Kelly. Their positions switched in the pit stops while the Kiwi retained the lead. Bright was forced to do an entire lap with a smashed rim, hurting his chances of a strong finish. Van Gisbergen had a commanding lead over Whincup as the safety car was called for the last time with under ten laps to go as Owen’s race came to an end thanks to a mechanical issue. As the safety car headed into the pits, the race turned into a dash to the flag though the positions remained unchanged. Wall had been enjoying a good race in his final full-time appearance when he spun at turn 11, collected by Chris Pither in the Super Black entry. Van Gisbergen took the flag in his final race for Tekno with future team-mate Whincup claiming second and Rick Kelly scoring a rare podium in what was to be the last race for longtime sponsor Jack Daniel’s. Winterbottom finished fourth with stable-mate David Reynolds in fifth, scoring a top five in his last race for Rod Nash and Prodrive Racing. Lowndes, Holdsworth, Caruso, Pye and Coulthard were the last of the top ten. Winterbottom was finally able to celebrate his breakthrough championship win, cooking his tyres and his engine as he performed burnouts down the straights.
While the Sydney 500 weekend saw Prodrive (formerly Ford Performance Racing) win its first drivers’ title since joining the sport in 2003, Steve Owen’s retirement in the final race and Craig Lowndes’ sixth-place finish meant Red Bull finished ahead of Prodrive in the team’s championship. A sixth straight win for the team locks in the first garage spot for next year.
Coates Hire Sydney 500 Winners and Losers
The season finale around the streets of Homebush proved to be rather an anti-climax, ending in the result that we all expected, but with a much bigger points margin than what was predicted after the heavyweight title fight never materialised. While Prodrive couldn’t secure the team’s championship, we saw a deserved new series winner crowned for the first time since 2010. If the end of this year is any indication of what lies ahead, next season should be more exciting than ever.
1. Mark Winterbottom finally achieved what he had always dreamt of when he secured the V8 Supercars championship. While it took a while for it to happen, the man they call Frosty has now become the first driver to win both the development series and the main game, albeit 12 years apart. He did what he needed to be done over the three races, staying off the wall and out of trouble. A deserving champion who will bring the #1 back to Ford for the first time since 2009.
2. Jamie Whincup He may have left it too late, but the six-time champion was back and in nearly career best form. Two wins as well as one second place over the weekend means that the six-time champion is coming on strong after a mid-season form slump. His recent speed as well as Red Bull’s championship win will undoubtedly make him a threat once again next season. The big question will be whether he can keep up with his new team-mate or not.
3. Shane Van Gisbergen is leaving Tekno Autosports on a high and entering a relationship with Triple Eight and riding a wave of success after taking out the final race of the year. The young Kiwi will be given his best chance yet to win the championship next year when he joins the most successful outfit in the modern era of the sport. His speed, determination and sheer talent will make him one of the strongest factors in 2016.
1. Craig Lowndes may have proved critics wrong by showing that he was still in form throughout the season but he failed to beat Winterbottom in any of the races over the weekend. At a meeting where he needed to win as much as possible, he was far from the front and down on his championship rival. With Lowndes in an effective single-car operation next year yet still under the Triple Eight banner, he may still have one last crack at championship glory.
2. Erebus Motorsport must be wondering just when it can take a trick. Despite an excellent early-season race from Will Davison, the pace of its two cars has been near non-existent at the back end of the season. Battling to get out of the mid-pack, the brothers Davison struggled for most of the weekend which was reflected in the results. With Will’s departure to Tekno Autosport, team owner Betty Klimenko and the crew will be hoping David Reynolds can provide a fresh lease of life to the ailing outfit.
3. Steve Owen failed to complete the one job he was given for the weekend: accumulate points for the team. The veteran may have won the Sandown 500 with Winterbottom, but he struggled to take control of the car in Sydney. Ending up in crashes, having no pace and just not showing the level of talent we know he has, proved to hurt Prodrive who subsequently lost the team’s championship. While he may be called up again for an endurance drive, it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to drive the car solo again.
The series now enters a hiatus until the Clipsal 500 next year. It’s not quite over for us yet though as we will be bringing you post-season data, analysis and of course more news as we get it.
In the meantime, we hope you’ve enjoyed the year as much as us! Thank you for your support.