It was Tim Slade’s time. Dream time. In 226 previous V8 Supercar races, the South Australian had never been on the top of the podium.
Then came the Woodstock Winton Supersprint at the weekend. Bingo! Slade was unstoppable, taking his maiden win from pole position on Saturday and then repeating the win on Sunday, from fourth on the grid, to become only the second driver this year, after Scott McLaughlin, to score more than one race victory.
It was a weekend for massive celebrations for the Brad Jones Racing Team (BJR) and Slade, who drove for Paul Morris’s team, Stone Brothers Racing (which evolved into Erebus Racing) and Walkinshaw Racing, before signing with BJR for 2016.
On Sunday night there was a lot of love in the air at BJR, a family team co-owned by brothers Brad and Kim Jones and based, rather unfashionably, in Albury, just up the road from Winton. They were celebrating the first time a BJR driver had won both days on a championship weekend. Undoubtedly, the wins were the result of a clever blend of great race strategy and fast and faultless driving. Again, we appreciate that motor racing is the ultimate team sport.
The win in Sunday’s 67-lap 200km race was particularly impressive because the BJR strategists and Slade had to hit the formula to move from fourth on the grid to the front, finding the right time to pit for tyres and fuel. And the three ahead of him on the grid – Chas Mostert, Fabian Coulthard and Craig Lowndes - were hardly slow coaches.
Slade made a great start and immediately signalled he had blistering pace behind the fast-starting Coulthard, Mostert and Lowndes. Then came the pit stops, and Slade emerged in front, opening a handy 9sec gap over Coulthard , who raced Slade’s Freightliner Holden last year.
A further threat was reigning champion, Mark Winterbottom, who after a poor qualifying had moved forward and was fuelled to race to the end. Typical Winton midfield chaos was evident too. Notably, Ford young gun Cameron Waters was mugged and gang tackled early by a few tough old hands, but regrouped and ultimately finished fifth.
A safety car threw many strategies into an instant review, some teams quickly opting to take a three-stop tactic. BJR stuck with its plan of two stops for Slade and after his final dash to the pits, he emerged 2.6secs clear of warring Ford drivers Winterbottom and Coulthard, who were fighting over second place.
Slade pushed hard to the finish while taking care of his tyres, winning with a comfortable 7sec margin over Winterbottom. “After the safety car I didn’t really know where we were at, but it didn’t worry me,” Slade smiled. “I knew the guys would have the strategy sorted and they did. You can’t pick a safety car so sometimes they go against you and sometimes they work for you.
“We had great speed today and the car looked after its tyres really well. I was focused on making no mistakes and pressing on. I don’t think there will be much of the tyres left now, though, that was my first victory burnout and it was awesome.
“The category is so competitive so I’d like to keep this momentum happening but who knows what could happen? You don’t go into the next race thinking you’re going to clean sweep it. I know there is a lot of hard work involved and hopefully we get a bit of luck. Everything has worked in our favour this weekend. This does give me some good confidence heading into the next round at Darwin because I feel the track is a high grip one as well. I’ll worry about it a little more next week after the wins sink in!”
Winterbottom, who stayed cool under pressure and preserved his tyres magnificently as he kept second place ahead of the persistent Coulthard, again showed that he has the race smarts to be a serious contender this year. His points grab lifted the Prodrive Australia star to the top of the Supercar standings above Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin, who took a second and 11th over the weekend.
Triple Eight’s Jamie Whincup, admitting his Red Bull Commodore is bereft of real pace, sits third after pocketing a fifth and a ninth at Winton. His teammate Shane van Gisbergen was not his usual menacing self either, taking ninth on Saturday and fourth Sunday.
Lowndes was struggling with a broken exhaust but got home in eighth, following his poor 15th the previous day. It was not a great weekend for his championship hopes. He is now fourth in the points after 11 races.
Mostert had a miserable Sunday, slipping from pole to 20th after a puncture ruined his race. He is having trouble converting his blinding qualifying speed into solid race results.
HRT’s classy drivers, Garth Tander and James Courtney, continue to be frustrated by the lack of speed from their Commodores, their lowly qualifying slots condemning them to a weekend of misery and biffo. These two deserve much more. Courtney was in savage conflict with a Ford driver in each race. On Saturday he was cleared of wrongdoing after a clash with Waters, finishing 19th. Then on Sunday, pole man Mostert slammed into Courtney, damaging the Holden’s suspension and costing the HRT driver 14 laps. He was classified 25th.
Mostert escaped censure from the control tower but had to pit with a punctured tyre, dropping to 20th, a sad follow-up to his seventh a day earlier.
But there was hope and a few smiles at Erebus on Sunday evening after David Reynolds aggressively worked his way from 17th to sixth, and set the fastest lap of the race. Team owner Betty Klimenko’s crew are starting to sort out their old HRT Commodore.
But in Ned Kelly country, it was Slade and the local team stealing all the wins on offer.
Hinchcliffe takes emotional pole and two Aussies qualify for 100th Indianapolis 500
James Hinchcliffe, the young Canadian who nearly died from a life-threatening leg injury during practice for last year’s Indianapolis 500, has completed an emotional comeback by claiming pole position for the 2016 edition of America’s greatest motor race.
Driving a Honda-powered Dallara, Hincliffe’s four qualifying laps at an average of 230.760mph gave him pole over Americans Josef Newgarden (Chevrolet) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Honda) by the proverbial bee’s willy.
Australian Will Power, seeking to go one better than his nail-biting second to Juan Pablo Montoya a year ago, will start sixth on the outside of row two in next Sunday’s Indy, the 100th running of the 500.
Sunday's action was split into a two-hour qualifying session for the drivers fighting for 10th to 33rd positions, then a 45-minute pole shootout for the top nine from Saturday.
Matt Brabham has qualified the Australian-entered #61 Pirtek Team Murray Chevrolet in 27th after an impressive build up. The 22-year-old rookie’s four laps averaged at 225.847mph.
The Indianapolis-based Brabham will become the third generation Brabham to start the Indianapolis 500 after his grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, started four times, debuting in 1961, and his father Geoff made 10 starts, beginning in 1983.
“It is a wonderful feeling to say that I’ve been able to qualify for the race, it is one of those special moments in life,” said a relieved Brabham. “We’re here and I’ve made it and I’m going to be racing in the Indianapolis 500. How cool is that? I’ve qualified for the Indianapolis 500! I’m happy.”
To make the 100th Indianapolis 500 field is the culmination of 10 months planning and work to bring Brabham and the team to the start line. For team owner, Brett Murray, it’s the emotional high of realising a lifelong dream to have a car in the Indy 500.
The colourful Queenslander, known around motorsport on two continents as ‘Crusher’, admits “the energy, hours and frustrations have been enormous, but nothing we were not expecting or that we were scared of”.
“Matt Brabham has justified our decision to start this journey by doing an amazing job in the car, which has had the paddock talking for the entire month of May,” said Murray.
"The kid is the real deal and I can only hope that next Sunday's race is the springboard for a rich and successful career.”
Lorenzo pips Marquez in unforgettable Italian MotoGP duel
Two-wheeled magic filled the menu at Mugello with two breathtaking appetisers from the Moto3 and Moto2 starlets, before the big guns came out to fire up the huge crowd that turned out to provide a yellow backdrop to what most hoped would be a Valentino Rossi victory
A day earlier, with the Saturday crowd roaring its approval, Rossi pulled a rabbit out of his helmet with a brilliant pole position, upstaging his bitter rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez, who were back on the second row.
Maverick Viñales (Suzuki) and Andrea Iannone (Ducati) shared the front row with Rossi at a track where overtaking is never easy.
The Mugello MotoGP race begun with an interesting stat: in the previous eight races, the pole setter took the victory.
But no-one told Lorenzo, who from fifth charged to the lead ahead of Rossi to hush the spectators. Viñales and Iannone badly fluffed their starts and fell back to the midfield, effectively ruining their chances in a few hundred metres.
When Lorenzo hits the front in a MotoGP race, it is usually game over, as he falls into a metronomic display of perfect, blindingly quick lappery.
Rossi, though, was clearly targeting his first win at Mugello since 2008 and, with most of the 100,000 spectators roaring approval, the veteran superstar kept sticking his nose beneath his team-mate in high-speed braking duels. A few times he ran wide, dropped back, but quickly moved back into Lorenzo’s slipstream. Marquez, meanwhile, was closing on both.
Then disaster struck. Rossi’s engine blew in a cloud of white smoke, silencing the yellow army. Further back, the recovering Iannone clawed his way from nowhere past his ‘Duke’ team-mate Andrea Dovizioso into third to get the Italian crowd excited again.
Sniffing a chance, Marquez closed on Lorenzo, and poked his nose ahead briefly before ceding to the Yamaha.
Then came a stunning, unforgettable final lap, during which Marquez and Lorenzo swapped the lead several times. Marquez held a margin exiting the final corner, but the Honda’s weakness – power down traction and stability – gave Lorenzo a second chance and he launched his YZR-M1 past his compatriot to steal the victory, his third of the season, by a mere 0.019sec.
“In Moto3 we often see races like this, but in MotoGP this kind of finish doesn‘t happen often,” said an elated Lorenzo. “Today, if I had been fighting with Rossi or Iannone, I wouldn‘t have won. It was a crazy battle.”
Iannone was third, from Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and then Dovizioso.
Aussie Jack Miller, who started from 17th, was torpedoed in a first-lap backmarkers’ dustup.
Lorenzo is now 10 points up on Marquez as the MotoGP series moves to Spain. Rossi has fallen 37 points back.
Meeke and Citroën spring dominant Rally of Portugal victory
Leading from the second stage to the end, Kris Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle stunned their Volkswagen and Hyundai rivals with a crushing performance at Rally of Portugal.
The Northern Irishman, returning to the championship after missing the previous two rallies in the Americas, brushed off the cobwebs to win the four-day rough road event by 29.7sec in Citroën’s DS 3. It was his second WRC success after victory in Argentina last year. Meeke is driving in only selected events this year while Citroën develops a new car for 2017.
Meeke, 36, became the fourth different winner in five WRC rounds this season following the successes of Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Hayden Paddon.
Meeke took the lead in the second stage on Friday morning and remained trouble-free on the rocky mountain roads in the north of the country, making the most of clean, grippy conditions courtesy of his low start position. He controlled the closing final day and a half after building an early lead of almost a minute. The final margin: 29.7secs.
“It was nearly a perfect weekend, a textbook performance,” said Meeke. “This year is all about gathering experience and I couldn’t have done any more. We’ll use these rallies this year for our benefit and try to mount a title challenge next year.”
After an overly-cautious opening day, a rejuvenated Andreas Mikkelsen upped his pace to dislodge his team-mate and championship leader Sébastien Ogier from second place. Set-up changes to his Volkswagen Polo R inspired the Norwegian, who won Sunday’s opening two stages and finished 4.8sec ahead of the reigning world champion.
Ogier suffered two punctures on the final day. With just one spare wheel in his Polo R, he compromised his pace to ensure he completed the final Power Stage and reach the finish after topping up one of the flat tyres with air.
In the WRC2 category, third place was looking probably for the Australian crew of Scott Pedder and co-driver Dale Moscatt until a spin on the final Power Stage cost almost 18secs and lost them the position by just 0.2sec.
Kiwi Hayden Paddon suffered a catastrophic retirement on Saturday when his Hyundai i20 caught fire and was completely destroyed after a relatively minor crash.