Billed as the return of the Launceston great, the build up to the Tasmania SuperSprint was overshadowed by Marcos Ambrose’s shock decision not to race in his highly publicised homecoming race at Symmons Plains. However, all was forgotten after a great weekend of racing with the re-emergence of a champion team, a mixed bag of results and some unsavoury actions on track.
Picking up from where they left off at the Australian Grand Prix Prodrive Racing Australia led the way in Friday’s two practice sessions. In a last-lap dash Chaz Mostert topped the water logged opening session, while team-mate Mark Winterbottom made the most of dry conditions to take out the day’s second session. Much of the talk in the second session had centred on Craig Lowndes spinning or leaving the road seven times as he tested the limits of grip, but his excursions certainly paid off when he put his Red Bull Racing Australia Commodore on pole position for both of Saturday’s races. Winterbottom lined up beside him on the grid with James Courtney and Will Davison on the second row for Race One, the Erebus Motorsport driver having topped the time sheet in final practice ahead of qualifying. Qualifying in second for the second race, it was a Red Bull front row lock-out with Jamie Whincup edging out Courtney and David Reynolds. Having impressed with an 11th place start in qualifying for the first race, young rookie Andre Heimgartner then put his newly re-shelled Super Black Racing Falcon FG-X in fifth for the second race, two places ahead of Winterbottom, and even more remarkable given this was the Kiwi’s first ever outing at the small 2.4km Tasmanian circuit.
It didn’t take long for things to fire up in the first race of the weekend when Davison’s Erebus Mercedes was spun by Courtney’s HRT entry at the Turn 4 hairpin. Davison was left fuming for the rest of the race, eventually finishing 17th. Scott McLaughlin’s luck remained unchanged, failing to finish after yet another engine drama for the Volvo Polestar Racing team. Lowndes walked away from the rest of the pack, finishing 2.3s clear of Winterbottom closely followed by Courtney in third. After the race, Davison paid a visit to the Walkinshaw garage, remonstrating with Courtney that he had been hit on purpose by the Holden driver. Replays showed Courtney was nudged by Chaz Mostert into Davison, but Davison was having none of it, labelling Courtney arrogant and pathetic. However, V8 Supercars’ Investigating Officer Jason Bargwanna saw nothing wrong with the move, declaring it a racing incident and choosing to not hand out any penalties.
In a repeat of Race One, Lowndes led the second 25-lap race, leading home team-mate Whincup for their first Red Bull one-two of the year. The pair put in a strong performance to dominate the race ahead of the consistent Courtney. Lowndes’ back-to-back victory extended his record of V8 career wins to 99. The race’s only safety car came out early on in the piece after Heimgartner locked his brakes into the hairpin, getting bogged in the Turn 4 gravel trap and needing a tow out. Reynolds looked set to grab the last spot on the podium for the Bottle-O Racing Team until Courtney found his rhythm and got past the Ford man. After an engine change between races, McLaughlin finished a strong ninth position, revealing post-race that his Volvo S60 was only making around 90% of its normal power.
Sunday began with Erebus’s protest against the decision not to penalise James Courtney being dismissed by CAMS, putting the incident to rest. On track, it was again Lowndes who put his car on pole, clean sweeping the weekend. However, it was closer than he would have wanted with Reynolds only 0.0485 of a second behind him. Whincup and Davison completed the second row while all four PRA cars made the top 10. Just 0.6 seconds split Lowndes from 24th placed Michael Caruso.
Sunday’s 200km race got off to a fiery start with Reynolds getting the jump over Lowndes off the line, only to be spun at the first turn by the Red Bull Holden. With the Prodrive entry relegated to the back of the pack, Lowndes was promptly slapped with a pit lane drive-through penalty. The incident also left Davison’s Mercedes with a broken steering rack after Shane van Gisbergen turned into Davison to avoid Reynolds’ Falcon. Whincup made the most of it leaping from fourth to run away at the front of the pack, taking van Gisbergen and Mostert with him. Taking on less fuel than Whincup, Mostert was expected to make the jump in the pits, but the six-time champion’s out-laps were exceptional, and Whincup ended up ahead of Mostert on the road and with tyres that were ten laps fresher. Whincup crossed the line in first, racking up his ninety-first career victory with Mostert and van Gisbergen completing the podium. Lowndes stormed back through the pack, ending up in sixth place, while Reynolds recovered from his spin to finish 11th, while stablemate Andre Heimgartner proved a future contender, keeping a level head and finishing eighth. Todd Kelly finished as the highest placed Nissan driver in 13th place, but Nissan Motorsport had a double blow in one of its pit stops – expecting to receive Caruso for his scheduled stop, the team had to service James Moffat first after he made an unplanned stop for a deflating tyre, forcing them to double-stack and lose track position.
Symmons Plains always throws up something new and this weekend was no different. Soft and hard tyre strategies were jumbled throughout the grid with almost everyone doing something different with tyres of varying qualities. While there were some familiar faces at the front of the grid, some were also fresh and some normal front-runners were forced to star in the mid-pack. The series now takes a five-week break before heading west to Perth.
Tasmania SuperSprint Winners and Losers
- Craig Lowndes showed that after 20 seasons, the fight and talent is still in him. The fact that he is 40 and can still not only pull together a hat-trick of poles but drive quickly and consistently is a sign that his time isn’t up just quite yet. Many, myself included, were sure that Whincup would beat him to the century but given he only needs one more win to reach the milestone, things may have changed.
- Jamie Whincup entered second in the all-time winners list and now only has his team-mate to beat. His excellent record of wins at Symmons Plains extended with 11 wins, accounting for around 12% of his overall victories. He raced fairly and put last year’s incident with Lowndes behind him, proving once again why he is undoubtedly a modern great.
- Chaz Mostert’s career just keeps getting better and better. He has one-lap pace and can easily run up the front in the longer races, as well as putting his more experienced team-mate in his place. Mostert seems to be gelling well with the new FG-X like the other Ford drivers but is getting the most out of it when he has the opportunity. Without doubt, with more consistent results, he will be a front-runner for most of the year.
- Will Davison couldn’t have had much of a worse weekend. The real tragedy is that none of the accidents that he was in were his own fault. James Courtney’s tap left Davison to fight through the pack, not an easy task in only a 25 lap race. Contact with van Gisbergen in Race 3 left him in the garage and most likely feeling like giving up, contemplating if he could catch the next flight home. However, he can take two strong qualifying performances and practice pace out of Tasmania and will be looking to capitalise on his one lap pace at Barbagallo.
- Garry Rogers Motorsport must be wondering just where all its gremlins are coming from in the Volvo power unit. McLaughlin’s DNF in Race 1 and Wall’s DNF in Race 3 raises questions as to why the year-old design still has the same problems as last season. When everything is going well, they have pace but if it’s not going 100%, things really don’t turn out the way the team wants it.
- Nissan Motorsport really didn’t appear on the radar all weekend apart from when its drivers were fighting each other for position. Mid-late pack results perhaps demonstrated that while the new aero package works on some of the street circuits, it isn’t consistent or stable enough on a high speed track. Stability and power upgrades should be number one on the team’s priority list before the cars hit the track again.
Red Bull seems to do the same thing each year: go into the first round with mixed results, have a quiet weekend in Albert Park and then smash the competition in the first championship race after the Grand Prix. The fact that it has remained so dominant for such a long amount of time is nothing short of amazing and really shows the good mentality within the team.