V8 SUPERCARS: Clipsal shakes up the order
UNTIL the weekend’s opening race of 2015, the Clipsal 500, there had been talk. Plenty of talk. Lots of hope. The Nissans would be faster, the new Falcon FG X better balanced, Red Bull’s dominance would be challenged.
But in front of the usual huge crowd, things started badly for everyone whose name wasn’t Jamie Whincup. The six-times champ blitzed both short qualifying sessions for Saturday’s two races.
At the other end of the grid was Marcos Ambrose, dead last in both sessions after failing to coax any speed out of his DJR-Penske Falcon FG X on fresh rubber.
Whincup was ominously quick as he stormed away to win the first race of the 2015 championship, but then a puncture in the second race left him with a huge scare as he saved it from whacking the wall, an unscheduled pit stop, and a 21st place finish.
Fabian Coulthard confirmed his swift qualifying pace was no flash in the pan, scoring a first-ever win at the Clipsal 500 for Brad Jones Racing in the second of Saturday’s 39-lappers.
It had a special poignancy for friends and family of the late Geoff Paradise, the former magazine founder and more recently public relations manager of Daimler Truck and Bus. One of its brands, Freightliner, is the main sponsor of the Coulthard BJR Commodore and Geoff helped bolt the deal together. Coulthard dedicated his win to Geoff’s memory.
The presence of Roger Penske, hot off helping guide Joey Logano’s win in the Daytona 500 one week earlier, didn’t help Ambrose to a stunning turnaround. Motor sport doesn’t work like that.
But Ambrose chipped away in both races on Saturday, improving eight places in each. Penske understands that success will not come instantly and declared it was a target for his Falcon to be in the top half of the field by the end of the year.
“We’re gonna put the tools and the people together to be competitive,” Penske said. “Our reputation is on the line, but nobody gives you wins. You’ve gotta earn them.”
Sunday brought more surprises, starting in qualifying for the 250km street brawl. Ambrose found a place in the top 10, showing he and the team had done lots of thinking and adjusting overnight. Pole went to James Courtney.
The race was a beauty, especially the duel at the pointy end over the concluding 20 laps between Courtney and a stalking, probing Shane van Gisbergen on slightly fresher rubber.
Van Gisbergen overtook Courtney on lap 60 but, because the pass wasn’t accomplished cleanly, the Kiwi elected to hand back the lead, an action known as ‘redressing’. Sometimes it’s called ‘sporting’. Either way, it removes any chance of officials acting post-race.
Van Gisbergen continued to look for opportunities, but Courtney was mistake-free on the way to the flag, winning an absorbing final race and taking the overall victory in the Clipsal 500 for the second consecutive year.
“It’s a good race having good, hard racing with someone that you respect,” Courtney said of Van Gisbergen. “He was really quick and had a really good go.”
With Garth Tander also on the podium, there are sure signs that the Holden Racing Team is finally back, and capable of threatening the Red Bull dominance.
Whincup’s race ended in controversy when on the last lap he made sold contact with Ford’s Chaz Mostert, who slammed hard into a concrete barrier.
“I am gutted,” said Mostert. “To be on the last lap of the Clipsal 500 with a good bag of points in line and to get nothing is tough.
“I am not quite sure what happened to be honest. He had a 10 car-length gap on me and as I came out of Turn 8 that was gone. He was then slow out of Turn 9 and I thought he might’ve had a problem. He blocked me, then out of (turn) nine and into the next complex I left him a bit of room just in case he recovered. I don’t know if I didn’t leave enough or if he got into me.”
Officials took no action.
Whincup went on to take fourth, ahead of regular Ford rival Mark Winterbottom.
Ambrose was 12th, and happy to have lifted his act on Sunday.
Crowd favourite Scott McLaughlin (Volvo Polestar) was glad to see the back of Adelaide. Though he qualified well on all three occasions, the races dealt him bad hands.
He was out of the first race on the roll-around lap, when his engine spat off an oil line. With the engine replaced for the second race, he lined up on the front row for race two but immediately copped a 10-second penalty for jumping the start. After serving that during his only pit stop (under yellow), he then learned that this was improper and that another 10 seconds would be added to his race time. So third place on the road became ninth in the official results.
Then on Sunday, the Kiwi was painfully distressed and dehydrated after being hauled from his hot working office after finishing 18th.
DRIVER CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS (after round one)
1. James Courtney – 258
2. Fabian Coulthard – 241
3. Garth Tander – 237
4. Shane van Gisbergen – 222
5. Jamie Whincup – 216
6. Craig Lowndes – 208
7. Mark Winterbottom – 202
8. Rick Kelly – 177
9. Jason Bright – 161
10. Todd Kelly – 143
V8 SUPERCARS: On the box
THE fight for eyes between Ten and Fox Sports, each with their own Clipsal 500 telecasts (and presenters) using the basic V8 Supercars TV feed and commentary, will certainly fall in favour of the free-to-air channel.
But viewers will have their own ideas which was the better show. Some of the tricks, and car cameras, paid off. Some didn’t.
Valiantly switching between the two offerings, your correspondent noted that the Porsches and utes were supports on Ten while Fox went with GT cars and the whacky stadium off-road trucks.
Mark Webber sat alongside Matt White on Ten and his comments are always worthy and candid. Mark Larkham, who is also signed with Ten, was not sighted enough, but maybe because I wasn’t using the remote at the right time. Larko is one of the sport’s shining assets. Neil Crompton and Greg Rust were their usual professional, knowledgeable selves.
The new presenting team on Fox of Jessica Yates, Mark Skaife and Russell Ingall showed promise, gelling rather well, although Skaifey, disconcertingly, seemed to be talking to Jessica rather than the audience. Still, I’d be looking at her a lot, too.
The Fox coverage didn’t need the work of someone called Greg Clark, who is as funny as a burning orphanage. And sub-titles might help sometimes when Greg Murphy gets excited.
F1: Final testing
OFFICIAL pre-season testing is done and dusted; on Sunday week, Formula One teams will fighting in the opening round of the world championship, the Australian Grand Prix.
Because we’re jingoistic bordering on xenophobic, Australians are more than interested in how Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo fared in the activities.
On Sunday, Our Dan completed 72 laps of the Circuit de Catalunya and it was day not entirely without difficulties. The final day in Barcelona began positively, but just over an hour into the session, Ricciardo stopped at the end of the pit lane. After investigation, an ERS (energy recovery system) issue was diagnosed and the team spent the morning rectifying the problem.
Ricciardo returned to the track in the afternoon and completed both long and short runs, claiming the day’s fifth-fastest time.
“In terms of the pecking order, which is obviously what everyone wants to talk about, it’s hard to say where anyone is at,” Ricciardo reported. “Aside from one team, I’d say it’s pretty close after that, but we’ll see in Melbourne.
“I think there’s more to come from us. Personally, I feel really ready to race now and I think we’ll be good come Melbourne.”
But with Lotus flicking Renault engines in favour of Ferrari this year, only Red Bull and sibling team Toro Rosso remain loyal to the French supplier.
And there are concerns that Renault hasn’t managed to get much more performance from the engine to stave off the 2015 challenges from Ferrari and Williams in the anticipated Best-of-the-Rest title fight.
Dan, a nation has its fingers crossed for you…
The team Ricciardo alluded to is, of course, reigning champ Mercedes, favourite again with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to steer its fortunes.
On Sunday, the final test day, Mercedes was nowhere near the top on the timing sheets, but no-one looked remotely worried. The Mercs have speed and durability.
Ferrari has been very quick in testing, too. This may, or may not, mean much. In many years past, Ferrari would routinely finish on top in pre-season testing… and then look like a busted donkey when the championship began.
Positively, the 2015 Ferrari has been quick and reliable, and Sebastian Vettel appears more at ease with the Ferrari’s behavioural traits than he did with last year’s Red Bull. As for Kimi Raikkonen, who knows? But he was caught smiling once or twice.
With the same power packs as the reigning champion team, Williams has shown all the signs of again fighting with Red Bull Racing and maybe Ferrari over any spoils left by Mercedes. Valtteri Bottas is a world champion in waiting, and Felipe Massa will fight to the day he leaves F1.
And what is a week in modern F1 without a team or teams asking Bernie Ecclestone for survival money. Force India has the begging bowl out again after being very late getting to testing (it managed just 2.5 days), but insists it will get to Melbourne.
McLaren and Honda have a mountain to climb before they get to taste champagne again.
There is also the cloud over dual world champion Fernando Alonso after his nasty testing crash. Alonso has indicated he is “completely fine” after leaving the track and hitting a barrier during the winter test.
The McLaren driver was kept in hospital for three nights to recuperate after being briefly unconscious after the shunt. Though ruled out of the final test by the medics, he subsequently released a video message to reassure his followers about his physical condition. "As you can see, I'm completely fine," Alonso said.
But McLaren’s Ron Dennis was less sure, saying the Spaniard’s return to the cockpit after the hospital sojourn is “unquantifiable” at this stage.
GT: Brisbane’s Talbot heads to Europe
AMBITIOUS Queenslander Liam Talbot, into just his third year of racing, is taking a tilt at a full program in Europe’s prestigious Blancpain Endurance Series in conjunction with Kessel Ferrari.
The son and heir to billionaire mining mogul Ken Talbot, who died in a light plane crash in Africa in mid-2010, will be testing this month at Paul Ricard before the serious business of the Monza Three-Hour on April 12.
The five-round Blancpain series for GT cars then moves to Silverstone (UK), Paul Ricard (France), Spa (Belgium) and Nurburgring (Germany).
Talbot will also drive in the Nurburgring 24 Hours in May with the Aston Martin Test Centre team and is down to do one of the VLN rounds there.
A return crack at the Barcelona 24 Hours in September is also under discussion. Talbot drove a Lamborghini in the Spanish enduro last year.
The Talbot team will also defend its Gulf 12 Hours class victory in Abu Dhabi in December. Last year, in the final endurance race of the year, he scored a win in the Gentleman’s category in Abu Dhabi, sharing a Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 GT3 with Moto GP world champion Jorge Lorenzo, Marco Zanuttini and Jacques Duyver.
Talbot doesn’t come from a motor racing background, but was smitten by the sport after tasting a class win at the 2013 Bathurst 12 Hour, sharing a Lotus Exige.
He went on to become the 2013 Radical Australia Cup SR3 series champion and won an Australian GT race outright at Highlands Park, steering an Audi R8.
His aim is to get to Le Mans in an LMP2 prototype and we sense he’s well on the way to achieving this goal.
V8 UTES: The future beyond Commodores and Falcons
V8 SUPERCARS and Australian V8 Ute Racing have announced they will continue their lengthy partnership to include close co-operation across the next generation of the category, which will be based around dual-cab and single-cab utilities, different brands and a broader array of engines.
The evolution of the category from next year will see the racing utes abandon its reliance on current production-based Commodore and Falcon utility platform roots.
It’s a situation forced on the category by the impending end to local production of the current Ford and Holden V8 utes.
V8 Supercars and the Australian V8 Utes will work together to develop a platform that will allow multiple manufacturers to compete with an equal performance balance.
Competitors will be encouraged to race turbo-diesel engines popular among today’s production tradie machines and new manufacturers will be sought to complement Holden and Ford.
V8 Utes race exclusively at V8 Supercars events, joining the V8 Supercars Dunlop Series, Porsche Carrera Cup, Formula 4 (soon) and Australian GT Series as primary support categories.
WTCC: Citroen and Lopez ready to defend title
AFTER a four-month hiatus, the World Touring Car Championship fires into a new season next weekend in Argentina, the homeland of defending champ Jose Maria Lopez.
The champion team is eyeing another manufacturers’ title after last year amassing 17 race wins and two world titles in their very first season in the competition.
Four factory Citroen C-Elysee WTCCs will be competing driven by Lopez, Yvan Muller, Sebastien Loeb and Ma Qing Hua. A fifth car, driven by Mehdi Bennani and managed by Sebastien Loeb Racing, will be entered in a private capacity.
Though he must take comfort from his remarkable tally of 10 wins last year, Lopez faces serious opposition from within. Team-mate Yvan Muller will be seeking a fifth world title while, having finished third in the standings last season, Loeb, in his usual determined and professional way, is targeting a touring car crown to add to his nine world rally titles.
Of the other brands, Honda’s Civic WTCC will pack more punch in 2015 following a busy winter of testing and development by ex-F1 racers Tiago Monteiro and Gabriele Tarquini.
Past WTCC winner Rickard Rydell has found the lure of a return to the championship more appealing than a life spent boating in his native Sweden. He will compete in a Nika International Honda Civic.
Lada Sport has been busy turning its all-new Vesta into a race-ready goer for Brits Rob Huff and James Thompson.
Tom Coronel and Tom Chilton are an impressive pairing for ROAL Motorsport, running Chevrolet RML Cruzes, which are also the cars of choice for charismatic Italian Stefano D’Aste and French stars John Filippi, Hugo Valente and Gregoire Demoustier.