The Wilson Security Sandown 500 heralded the beginning of the endurance season for the V8 Supercars championship. As always, there was much hype around many drivers, either looking for their first endurance wins or to add a new trophy to their cabinets. Like most events, the cream rose to the top but there were some underdogs that showed genuine potential over the weekend.
The Sandown 500 qualifying format is unique with a 20-minute qualifying session, followed by two 20-lap races, one for co-drivers and one for regular drivers. The results from the final race would set the grid for Sunday.
In the 20-minute, one-lap session, it was again Chaz Mostert that put his #6 Prodrive Racing Australia Ford on provisional pole, just edging out team-mate and championship leader Mark Winterbottom to the prime position. Jamie Whincup put in a good result in his new #1 Red Bull Racing chassis, managing to grab third place, while Lee Holdsworth was the surprise of the session, putting his #18 Walkinshaw Racing Holden Commodore in fourth. David Reynolds (#55 The Bottle-O Racing Team Ford), Fabian Coulthard (#14 Freightliner Racing Holden Commodore), Shane van Gisbergen (#97 Tekno Autosports Holden Commodore), Scott Pye (#17 DJR Team Penske Ford Falcon), Scott McLaughlin (#33 Volvo Polestar Racing S60) and Garth Tander (#2 Holden Racing Team Commodore) rounded out the ten.
The first race for the grid saw Prodrive’s Cam Waters (#6) beat Steve Owen (#5) to the first corner, taking early control of the race. However, a locked wheel going into Dandenong Road forced him wide, allowing his team-mate through, as well as Paul Dumbrell (#1) and Jonathon Webb (#97). After a bad run onto the pit straight, Owen was overtaken by Dumbrell and forced to chase him to the end. The shock of the opening lap was Holden Racing Team stand-in Russell Ingall (#22) jumping from 12th to sixth by the end of the lap. On lap two, Alex Buncombe (#7) tapped and spun the Volvo of Chris Pither (#34) with no major damage taken. A few laps later, the second Volvo of Alex Premat (#33) made major contact with Andrew Jones (#8), putting Jones out with radiator damage. At the end of the sprint, it was Dumbrell who put Whincup in the best position to get pole, beating Owen by 7.2 seconds. Waters, Canto (#55), Webb, Ingall, D’Alberto (#47), Ambrose (#17), Youlden (#14) and Reindler (#3) were the rest of the top ten.
The final race for the grid saw a drag race to the first corner between rivals Whincup and Winterbottom. Despite a lock up on the inside, it was Whincup that got the better run around the turn, going into the lead early. While Whincup had speed early on, the PRA Falcons of Winterbottom and Mostert soon reeled him in, keeping up major pressure for a majority of the race. It looked like Mostert had more pace than his team-mate, getting anxious to pass him and get a shot at Whincup. A late race safety car came out after Andre Heimgartner lost his brakes at the end of the back straight, spinning onto the grass and emerging into the path of Jack Perkins. The safety car pulled in just before the start of the final lap, causing a one lap dash to the flag. For the first time this season, Mostert made contact with his team-mate, though it affected neither of them. Whincup was able to hold off the pressure and put his car on pole for the 500, the three-hundredth pole position for Holden. Winterbottom, Mostert, van Gisbergen, Reynolds, Slade, Holdsworth, Davison, Coulthard and Percat completed the top ten. The Lowndes/Richards car finished in twenty-third after suffering a drive-through penalty as a result of spinning Perkins off the road earlier in the race.
With all co-drivers in the cars for the race start, it was again the #1 and #5 that had yet another drag race to the first corner, with the Holden prevailing for the second day in a row. Dumbrell settled into a rhythm early, stretching out his lead to Owen each lap. Waters managed an average start, dropping a position to Webb on the start line. For the next bunch of laps, Waters was able to keep up the pressure on Webb, hounding the back of the Tekno Commodore. Karl Reindler was able to make up many spots, getting past many cars and moving through the field. Buncombe in the Carsales Nissan was forced to come into the pits on lap twelve with a fuel pressure problem. Premat lost radio communications to his team but pitted on lap fourteen, however a mistake from his crew meant an airspike was stuck in the car, leaving his bay with it in, gaining an unsafe release penalty from race control. Owen pitted on lap sixteen, taking on four tyres and fuel, trying to make a different strategy work. Oliver Gavin in the #222 had a suspension or wheel failure into turn one, forcing him into the grass and to limp back to the pits. On lap nineteen, the lead car of Dumbrell came into the pits, coming out ahead of Owen. Pither was able to put his #34 Volvo between the #5 and #55, emerging as a dark horse. Waters pitted on lap twenty-six, satying in the car and putting on four fresh tyres as well as fuel. The extended stop put him down in the order but in fresh air. Bourdais in the #18 machine was surprisingly able to keep up with the pack, putting in consistent and fast lap speed. With a great set of lap times, Waters soon closed in on the pack in front, passing cars lap by lap, cleaning making up positions and time. After everyone completed their first stops, Dumbrell emerged with a strong lead over Webb and Owen, though most cars were on different strategies. Near the end of his stint, Waters made a mistake and had to straight-line the turn two and three chicane, going off into the grass. Lap fifty-five saw the beginning of the driver changes with Whincup leaving the lane ahead of van Gisbergen. The lap after and Waters pitted, handing the #6 to Mostert who emerged just ahead of Winterbottom. However, Mostert, Winterbottom and Reynolds were soon bunched up closely though not fighting hard and risking damage. The first safety car of the day was deployed on lap seventy-six after the #7 Nissan went off at turn nine and got beached. Ingall jumped out of the #22 after starting the race, giving it over to Perkins. While the order mostly stayed the same, Jason Bright surprisingly ended up in third, putting a gap between the #1/#97 and the Prodrive cars. On the second lap after the restart, Bright got a tap at turn one, unsettling him and forcing him to move out of everyone’s way. Whincup seemed unable to get a major airgap to van Gisbergen and Mostert, who closed in on the Tekno car. Around lap one hundred, it became clearer what strategies might take each car to the end. A majority of the field, such as Whincup, Winterbottom, Mostert, Reynolds, were banking on a safety car so they wouldn’t have to pit twice. However, van Gisbergen’s strategy meant he could make it on one stop but only if he started to conserve fuel. Despite this and warnings from his team, he kept the pressure on Whincup, putting himself onto the same strategy as everyone else. Whincup decided to jump into the pit lane early to get tyres, take on fuel and change brake pads. However, a few laps later he had to come in again after a slow leak on his right rear tyre, putting him out of the race. On lap one hundred and nineteen, the critical lap number, Winterbottom came in to take on fuel to the end. The next lap, van Gisbergen and Mostert do the same. After the stops, Winterbottom emerges as the leader with a comfortable margin, enough to conserve if need be. Van Gisbergen was in second, still being put under major pressure from Mostert. Mostert was able to get by van Gisbergen after the Kiwi locked up going into turn nine, ending up off the road. Only a few moments later, the safety car was deployed for debris on the track, bunching up the pack. The race restarted on lap one hundred and thirty-five, Winterbottom launching and trying to get a gap on the rest of the field. Both of the Prodrive Pepsi Falcons were able to get an edge on van Gisbergen, who had to hold off Reynolds and Tander. With under fifteen laps to go, Tander was able to finally get by Reynolds who ran wide at turn nine. Encouraged by van Gisbergen’s potential fuel issues, Tander was encouraged to push on. In the dying laps, Mostert continued to apply pressure to his team-mate, keeping on the rear bumper of the other Pepsi Max Ford. However, it was not to be as Winterbottom secured his ninth win of the season and took Steve Owen to the top step of the podium. Mostert/Waters nabbed second while van Gisbergen/Webb managed to just hold off a charge from Tander/Luff. Reynolds/Canto came home fifth in the #55 entry.
Wilson Security Sandown 500 Winners and Losers
After 500 kilometres of racing, it was still an extremely tight race at the top of the order, especially between the two leading Prodrive Fords. Despite 888 built cars seemingly dominating most of the race, good luck and consistency meant that Ford was able to secure their first Sandown 500 1-2 finish since 2004.
- Mark Winterbottom may not have had the best round at Sydney Motorsport Park but he more than made up for it this weekend at Sandown. Steve Owen put in an impressive first stint, staying off the barriers and on the track, while the championship leader fended off a strong challenge from his much younger team-mate. He’s responded to his critics in the best way possible and going into Bathurst, is now in prime position to claim another 1000 win. The only downside to his weekend was being hit with a $3000 fine for performing a burnout on the front straight after crossing the line.
- Chaz Mostert showed that not only is he a one-lap specialist but is also able to race closely with his more experienced team-mate without taking any major risks. His qualifying form in the traditional single-lap format has been outstanding this year, something he’ll take comfort in if he makes it to the Top Ten Shootout at Bathurst. Cam Waters also did a great job in the opening shift, despite losing places off the line. His confidence will no doubt have increased which Mostert will be hoping to nurture ahead of Bathurst.
- Paul Dumbrell again showed why he gets called year after year to come back and drive with Jaime Whincup in the endurance events. His time in the car almost all weekend long was perfect aside from a loose final lap before he handed over the #1 to Whincup. His pace and consistency is ominous, especially given Bathurst has always been a strong track for him. He’ll be hoping to repeat his 2012 victory with Jamie at the next round.
- Garry Rogers Motorsport was yet again left to scratch their heads after lacklustre finishes for both of their cars. The Wall/Pither car was never in contention for a strong finish and the McLaughlin/Premat machine was in a good running position, and possibly on course for a strong result, until a brainsnap from a crew member meant the Frenchman had to come back into the pits twice in two laps. After a stellar 2014, they must be wondering just how they got here.
- #888: what happened? While Whincup got a new chassis, Lowndes and Richards were still campaigning an older one, which may have attributed to their lack of good form this weekend. However, mistakes and no pace left them to finish the race in an uninteresting thirteenth place. Lowndes’ mistake in the race for the grid as well as Richards’ meaningless stint means that the old dogs may have to learn some new tricks to take on the mountain.
- Erebus Motorsport again must be feeling the heat with the Walsh/Le Brocq entry only just making the top twenty (nineteenth) while the brothers Davison ended up crossing the line in twenty-third after mechanical problems. Their year just seems to be getting worse and worse, bringing more concerns from supporters who are wondering just how long Betty’s battlers will be on the grid.
Next up is the Mecca of Australian motorsport: Mount Panorama. We will be providing in depth coverage on social media and more features in the lead-up to the SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000 which begins on the 8th of October.