V8 SUPERCARS: Clipsal 500 – winners and losers
IT’S a very good sign when motor racing doesn’t need rain to spice up the racing.
But when the rain bursts out of nowhere and turns the track into perilous water sport, it can be – take your pick – a spectacular added bonus, an unwanted intrusion, or a win for the parched local lawns and gardens.
The opening round of the 2016 V8 Supercars Championship on the streets of Adelaide offered up motor sport in a gloriously pure way on Saturday in the second of the three races making up the Clipsal 500. Watching the contest go to the wire in a steamy, tense, no-quarter duel between HRT’s James Courtney and Tripe Eight’s Jamie Whincup was riveting stuff, and further reinforcement that race drivers are athletes of the highest levels of fitness. People will be talking about that one for many moons, especially the punchy last-lap slides through high-speed turn eight…
Then on Sunday, as race time approached, the conditions turned to pouring rain in a blink, throwing plans and strategy into a soggy, chaotic and at times unprofessional mess. The race start was delayed by wild weather, and ultimately suspended for a period. Finally, the race was resumed for a few manic laps before the flag was shown after 48 of the scheduled 78 laps to a stunned Nick Percat, who drives for one of the smallest teams in pit lane, Lucas Dumbrell Racing.
In a chaotic conclusion, Percat hung tough in a race sprint to the line ahead of pole sitter Fabian Coulthard (DJR-Team Penske Falcon), who post-race was put back to 16th after a time penalty was added.
“That is unbelievable,” said the stunned Percat afterwards. “I came to the last corner just thinking ‘what is going on here?’”
That’s what bad weather can do. This, and a lot more.
There was further confusion because some drivers bewilderingly hadn’t taken on their mandatory 140 litres of fuel during the (shortened) race. In the madness, some teams hadn’t read the rule book and the officials were not helping with clarification. Five drivers including Coulthard, were docked 60 seconds post race, reshuffling the results. Nissan’s Michael Caruso found himself up to second, with HRT’s Garth Tander a bounce-back third after a tough Saturday.
There were a million stories from that race, but let’s go back to the start of proceedings…
After unprecedented teams’ reconstitution and changes over the summer hiatus, anticipation was sky high heading into a new season: so many questions to be answered over two days of steamy, no-quarter-given competition on an Adelaide Parklands street circuit as unforgiving as Dirty Harry.
Two were answered even before the first race. On Friday, Scott Pye (pictured above) fired his DJR-Team Penske Falcon to pole for the first of three races making up the Clipsal 500. On Sunday Coulthard grabbed another pole for Dick and Rog. Yes, the team amalgamating two huge names from either side of the Pacific will be very competitive this year.
Chaz Mostert, battered and broken in a huge shunt in qualifying for the Bathurst 1000 last October, came out firing to grab pole for race two. The youngster is certainly not carrying any emotional scarring into 2016…
Only in the races did Mostert show his body was strong enough to handle the rigors of racing on a challenging street circuit, in ambient heat perilously near 40 degrees, and sauna-like cockpit temperatures hovering close to 60. He even tested out the leg and rib repairs with a solid whack into the wall at turn eight on Sunday. He needs to employ a little caution occasionally.
Now for some other answers and observations.
We kinda figured Jamie Whincup would come out blazing, and he did, winning the first race of the year and following with a brilliant second in the race two thriller. Losing #1 stung. He wants it back. He will be a contender this year. Sunday wasn’t as good but no disaster. After finishing 14th, he summed up his day thus: "What on earth just happened then? The biggest problem was we didn't have enough pace in the wet and I also turned around twice.
“We all stayed calm and took the curve balls as they came but we were on the wrong end of the bargain today. I said to the boys as I was crossing the line that we need to use this as motivation.
“It’s going to be a tough year so we just need to keep doing a good job and we should be there at the end."
His new teammate, Shane van Gisbergen (pictured above), has settled into his new environs at T8. He was quick in Adelaide, too, but oddly not mistake-free in the wet, normally a comfortable habitat for the Kiwi. But he was wracked with a heavy cold.
Craig Lowndes had a weird weekend in the Caltex T8 Commodore. But as always he was fast and mistake-free in the wet. He missed the top 10 on Sunday but splashed into contention before taking the fuel stop that put him back in the pack. Still got it.
Prodrive had mixed fortunes. Mostert was quick immediately, but defending champ Mark Winterbottom never looked pacy, and seemed resigned to collect what he could. After round one, he is 12th in points. Rookie Cam Waters lived up to expectations, cracking a place in the top 10 shootout on Sunday, and then claiming a standout fourth amidst all the mayhem. He is currently seventh in the championship standings, the best of the Prodrive lads.
DJR-Team Penske showed the strengths of engineering depth and two fine drivers, but also that the newly expanded squad needs time to gel – things were not yet clockwork during the pit stops. Scott Pye claimed the team’s and his first pole and Saturday. Pye was disappointed with his race results but should be reminded that this time last year he was in his civvies conducting garage tours for the team while Marcos Ambrose was wearing Nomex.
Coulthard started quietly but his pole for the Sunday race was a corker as he edged Mostert by 0.0065s with van Gisbergen third. Fabs is off and running in the new colours…
At Brad Jones Racing, Tim Slade will want to put the weekend behind him after a DNF in the opener and the fuel penalty on Sunday.
The Nissans, beaten up regularly last season, seem to have found more grunt this year. The squad leaves Adelaide with three drivers in the top 10 standings, and excellent hopes of having a handy year. Michael Caruso leads the championship after the Clipsal, though it may be a battle to stay there.
Chirpy Scott McLaughlin had a solid weekend without quite grabbing a trophy: two fourths and a 12th. New teammate James Moffat struggled, a power steering failure in qualifying for the Sunday race flicking him to the back of the grid. He’s also suggesting he needs time to get on top of the very different engine performance and aero.
The first hit-out for David Reynolds (pictured above) and the brand-switching Erebus Motorsport showed some promise. Reynolds took fifth in the mayhem on Sunday after starting from 21st. Reynolds now sits 11th overall in the championship
HRT’s red-hot drivers look to now have a couple of quick cars beneath them, although Garth Tander had a failure on Saturday while his mate James Courtney was plucking a magical race win. By the way, data traces show that Courtney went into turn eight on that desperate, dramatic final lap of race two all of 7km/h faster than previously, the eye-opening slide demanding 90 degrees steering lock, all at 215km/h.
Bring on round two at Symmons…
FORMULA ONE: Confusion reigns over Australian Grand Prix qualifying
THE sport’s leading drivers have slammed Formula One leadership, and in particular the chaotic introduction of a new qualifying system -- a format they seem to believe is confusing and unnecessary.
The new qualifying was proposed, accepted, and then nixed on the grounds that software couldn’t be readied in time for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Confusingly, it was then reinstated days later.
It will now proceed at Albert Park. We think.
Several drivers including world champions Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel (pictured above) have openly criticised the chaotic and confusing decision-making process, though only the Brit was inclined to support those who’ve been suggesting the whole circus is shambolic.
Asked if F1 was ‘broken, lacking direction or in rude health’, Hamilton surprisingly admitted: "I’d say probably the first two” before going on the defensive.
"I don't think it's broken," Vettel opined. "In terms of the show, I think F1 is doing fine. In the background, I think the decisions lately and so on it is fair to say that it is lacking leadership.
“I think it's a little bit chaotic if a couple of weeks before the season you start to re-invent certain rules and the formats of qualifying as has been discussed in the last couple of weeks.”
Vettel also cranked up his opposition to the controversial elimination qualifying to now debut in Melbourne.
"I'm personally not a fan of [the new] qualifying, and speaking on behalf of all the drivers, no driver is,” Vettel declared. “We don't get what's wrong with the old qualifying, and why to change it."
McLaren’s Alonso said he was "sad for the sport" because of uncertainty over the qualifying format and some chaotic decision making.
Pushed to comment on the new qualifying, Alonso said: “It doesn't look right, from the outside, when in one week, we change the qualifying format three times – or pretend to change.
“Too many changes… The complexity of the regulations, also for the spectators, is quite high,” he said.
Alonso went back to a decade for inspiration for a better qualifying format. “We want simplicity in the rules – and even the one-lap format, the superpole that we did in 2005, I think, 2006, was spectacular.
“Everyone has one lap of television coverage, it's simple: one lap, you brake late, maybe you start 15th - there is some adrenaline on that lap as well.”
Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat was another to hit out against change. “I don't think we need to change qualifying, to be honest,” he said. “Why confuse people even more? Even we don't understand what's going on, imagine the other people on the TV.”
GT: Biffo on the streets
A MISTAKE on the final lap by Roger Lago spoiled an otherwise fine weekend for the Lamborghini and handed victory in Sunday’s Australian GT Championship to Tony Walls’ McLaren 650S in an eventful weekend dominated by amateur drivers.
The system of handicapping professional drivers with longer compulsory pit stops seemed to disadvantage the hired guns, and the faster “ams’ took full advantage.
Lago was comfortably zeroing in on his second win of the weekend when an error under braking sent him off track.
Walls was the delighted recipient of the win ahead of the Glen Wood/Justin McMillan Lamborghini, while Matt Solomon claimed third in a Eggleston Motorsport Porsche.
The race started with an expensive shunt when Peter Hackett’s new Mercedes-AMG GT clipped the Audi R8 of race two winner James Koundouris, eliminating both cars and scragging Klark Quinn’s McLaren.
The new Mercedes-AMG GT of Craig Baird then opened a handy gap before the Kiwi handed over to Scott Taylor with a comfortable lead.
But Taylor untidily tagged the wall and Lago was through… until his last lap own goal.
The CAMS Australian GT Championship table is currently headed by the Lamborghini R-EX of Glen Wood/Justin McMillan by four points with Tony Walls in third place, 22 points further back.
FORMULA ONE: Halo protection splits drivers
FORMULA One drivers have offered up an unsurprisingly diverse reaction to the new “halo” closed cockpit protection system unveiled during testing at Barcelona in Spain on Thursday.
Some favour the extra head protection; others have spoken out against it.
The concept structure was fitted to Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari for an installation as the FIA works on introducing cockpit protection into the world championship for 2017.
The frame has a single column down the centre - the design solution that most of the teams and the FIA supported. The prototype halo apparatus is fixed to the car but the intent is to settle on a system that raises, allowing drivers to move in and out of the cockpit.
The halo is believed to weigh around six kilos.
This is one of many closed cockpit solutions considered over recent years, but the deaths of Marussia F1 driver Jules Bianchi and Indy car racer Justin Wilson in the past 12 months has ramped up the urgency to implement a practical system. (Both these drivers suffered fatal head injuries on track, although Bianchi died through the incompetence of track people – he crashed into a dangerously parked tractor.)
GP Drivers Association chairman Alex Wurz said recently that closed jet-fighter canopy designs were likely to come in the future.
But the fully closed canopy has been criticised due to issues with extracting drivers, and their likely propensity to fling debris high into the air.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo has been supported the push for greater head protection for drivers, and Wurz said the Red Bull Racing star isn't alone in his views.
When current drivers were polled, 95 per cent said 'yes, we have to go and make Formula One safer and go with the extra head protection' Wurz declared.
One was Nico Rosberg, who posted on Twitter that halo promised to be a “massive safety improvement”.
But compatriot Nico Hulkenberg was quick to oppose the halo driver head protection system tested by Ferrari.
Talking to NBC, the Hulkenberg said F1 needed to retain an element of danger.
“Personally, I’m not a big fan of it,” he said. “I think safety and security in F1 and the standards are pretty high and very good. I would be happy to accept those risks and keep running as we are.”
The German was also no fan of the aesthetics: “I don’t like how it looks.”
Ricciardo’s retort came in the form of advice that “there’s no need to be a hero…”
RALLY: Latvala takes Mexico
HELPED by an advantageous road position, Volkswagen’s mercurial Jari-Matti Latvala has dusted teammate Sebastien Ogier to win of Rally Mexico.
Latvala took a solid grip on victory on Saturday, winning six stages as he capitalised on having several rivals sweep the stages. To explain, the Finn started down the order after his dreadful start to 2016, -- he was a non-finisher in both Monte Carlo and Sweden.
Latvala pulled out a useful 1m 36.8s lead over Ogier on Saturday, virtually icing the win then.
Ogier, ever the thinker, recognised he would struggle to overhaul Latvala and instead settled for a conservative approach to the finish.
The margin on Sunday afternoon was a large-by-WRC-standards 1m 05 00s.
Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo (pictured below) came home third, but was hit with a two-minute penalty after he was found to have used 29 tyres, one more than the allowed number, elevating Ford’s Mads Ostberg to third. Haydon Paddon (Hyundai) finished fourth.