Shane van Gisbergen dominates at Clipsal 500

Shane van Gisbergen at Clipsal 500

Shane comes out with all guns blazing on Adelaide streets

Awesome Clipsal 500 start to Supercars 2017 for the defending champ

Awesome could be Shane van Gisbergen’s favourite word. Count on him trotting it out in every interview.

And awesome adequately describes his performance over the 19th Clipsal 500 weekend, round one of the 2017 Supercars Championship.

Shane van Gisbergen wins at Clipsal 500SVG was fastest in qualifying for each of the two 250km races, nailed pole position in the Shootouts for Saturday and Sunday. And then more importantly sculpted a dominant victory on Saturday followed by a relentless fightback to win again on Sunday. 

Perfect. A maximum of 300 championship points. That’s 51 points up on his nearest rivals Fabian Coulthard and James Courtney.

While van Gisbergen was chillingly dominant on Saturday when he won by nearly 15 seconds, he was forced to fight desperately on Sunday, with DJR Team Penske’s hot young signing Scott McLaughlin holding the lead until the 75th lap of 78.

Van Gisbergen pulled back an eight-second margin after the final pit stop to close on the Falcon. McLaughlin succumbed to the pressure, locked his brakes, and SVG was through to claim his second win of the weekend and his second Clipsal 500 title.

Shane van Gisbergen driving at Clipsal 500“What a huge weekend,” van Gisbergen said. "We all worked so hard. It's a great start to the year, everyone has pushed through the off-season and everyone really deserves this result. It was a hard race, I had some fun battles. I struggled at the start, lost some time, it was all happening.”

Van Gisbergen said that despite his dominance on Saturday, the weather conditions gave him a challenging time.

“Being a kiwi anything over 20 [degrees] is tough,” he added. “But the cool suit was working and I kept drinking.”

The 28-year old says there is still plenty of improvement to make to his new Commodore. What was evident in Adelaide though is the Triple Eight powerhouse will again be hard to topple. Even so, we can anticipate season-long warfare between Red Bull HRT and a clearly invigorated DJR-Team Penske.

Clipsal 500 starting lineThe normally bubbly McLaughlin couldn’t supress his abject disappoint after going within three laps of a dream debut with his new Shell V-Power Racing Team.

“I thought today could’ve been the day we got our first win, but there’s a lot of promise there,” McLaughlin said.

“I’m just gutted – you lead a whole race and then you lose it. I’m not confident with the brake package at the moment and I’m getting used to that. Once you lock the rears you’re done."

Still, McLaughlin’s second place on Sunday coupled with his Ford team-mate Coulthard’s second on Saturday were good indications that the off-season reorganisation and rebuilding at DJR Team Penske has had a positive effect. Coulthard (fifth on Sunday) has certainly lifted to the challenge of having a speedy young driver in the adjacent garage.

McLaughlin’s Saturday went from okay to merde when he was pinged by officials for weaving during the lap before a restart, resulting in a pitlane drive-through and a loss of 19 places – fifth to 24th. Way too harsh an outcome for a minor infraction. But rules are rules. He climbed back to 15th.

Shane van Gisbergen at Clipsal 500 celebratesThe now non-factory Walkinshaw HSV squad looks to be on the march this year with street specialist James Courtney notching third on Saturday followed by fourth on Sunday. Courtney escaped censure for tagging and spinning Nissan’s Simona de Silvestro near the pit entry during the second leg.

Four-car Prodrive Racing (Australia) had a mixed weekend. Chaz Mostert recovered from an eventful Saturday when, beset with brake issues with his Ford, he was a lowly ninth to take third on Sunday. But Mostert admitted the team has some considerable work to do to get on terms with Triple Eight. Cameron Waters was pleased with his weekend, adding an eighth in the second leg to his excellent fourth a day earlier. Mark Winterbottom had a shocker by his standards, logging lowly 15th and 14th place results.

While van Gisbergen started his championship defence in a crushing, emphatic way, the man who was the kiwi’s great rival for the title last year, his Red Bull HRT teammate Jamie Whincup, had a tough weekend. He was handicapped by an ordinary qualifying Shootout performance on both days leaving him playing catchup in each race.  Whincup’s race chances took a hit on Saturday when his team called him to the pits on lap one in anticipation of a safety car that didn’t eventuate. His Sunday race was compromised by a kerb hop in his Shootlap lap which relegated him to a 10th starting spot. He finished sixth each day.

Said the six-times champ at the end of the second 250km contest: “We fought hard, I’m pretty proud of what everyone’s done, we just can’t take a trick with the strategy. We put a heap of petrol in and really relied on a safety car. Who would have thought there would be no safety car in 250 kilometers!”

Shane van Gisbergen drivingCrowd favourite Craig Lowndes in the third Triple Eight Holden is also off to a so-so start to 2017 – eighth and 10th.

Nissan’s pre-season testing pace proved flattering when the serious business began on Saturday, although Rick Kelly recorded a healthy fifth on Saturday. That was as good as it got, though, Todd Kelly’s ninth of Sunday being the best Altima result in the second leg.

The Garry Rogers Motorsport drivers landed good results considering the off-season crazy-rush to produce two Commodores to replace the departing Volvo hardware. Seemingly very comfortable in the Holden, Moffat started with a 10th and then took 16th the next day. Garth Tander, who was his consistent self with 12th and 11th place finishes, indicated there were improvements to come.

Drivers had to deal with sweltering temperatures as high as 35 degrees C on Saturday, but a cooler 27 on Sunday. And the new Dunlops offered better grip; Courtney revealed that infamous Turn Eight (which claimed Will Davison and Nick Percat this year) is 10 km/h faster than before.

The first female full-time driver in the Supercars era, de Silvestro impressed in just her third Supercars race weekend – and first solo hit out. She finished 20th in her first time on the awkward Adelaide street track, her best lap time just 1.1sec off the best. The Swiss looked remarkably lively and fresh after the 250 km at the wheel of the Nissan Altima in searing heat, backing up on Sunday when she placed 23rd (after being spun by Courtney as she tried to enter the pits and also pushed back by a pit lane penalty for the over-use of kerbs).

Shane van Gisbergen Clipsal 500There were many eyes too on Alex Rullo, the 16-year-old schoolboy making his Supercars main game debut after CAMS contentiously granted him a SuperLicence though his past results fell below the required criteria.

He qualified his LDM Holden at the rear in both races but the youngest driver in Supercars history stayed out of strife to finish 23rd and 25th.

“The hardest thing was to maintain 100 per cent focus, and manage the numb foot,” reported Rullo after Saturday’s debut.

A crazy Super2 development series race on Saturday reinforced the point that the sport lacks driving depth and that quite a few younger drivers need to go back to karts or a cheaper formula to refine their skills.

A very modest crowd turnout for the final Adelaide 500 under Clipsal sponsorship was surprising given the interest in the off-season musical chairs and arrival to the series of the first full-time female driver in decades.

The search is on for a new sponsor to take over the naming rights next year.

Testing times for Formula One

Cars look better, yes. But what about the racing?

The new-for-2017 Formula One cars certainly look more aggressive and businesslike, a big-rubbered return to grand prix beast of the 1970s and ‘80s.  They actually look faster and meaner than machines of the recent past.F1 car

And the lap times are supposed to be way quicker…up to five seconds per lap swifter.

The new regulations were aimed at shaking up the racing. And, yes, they are quicker, and the drivers seem to be braking later than ever and turning in to corners at higher speeds thanks to the increased aero and wider rubber. Pleasingly, a few of the also-rans of 2016, Renault and Haas, finished the opening test further up the time sheets than we may have expected. Worryingly, McLaren struggled with pace and (mainly) reliability.

Let’s make the point though, that the pecking order in testing is not terribly accurate. Cars and driver combos are inevitably running on varying programmes – different fuel loads and tyre compounds.

F1 car drivingStill, all considered, the opening Barcelona official test days did little but raise fears that Formula One this season might not bring much of a shake up at the sharp end of the grid.

Also, some drivers and pundits have expressed concerns that overtaking – always a tough proposition in modern F1 – may be harder this year.

Predictions too that the increased aero and higher cornering speeds would make the task of the drivers way tougher don’t appear to be ringing true.

Most seem to be doing things rather easy. The cars are sticking like Velcro, with little evidence that the drivers are fighting power oversteer or generally instability.

They are faster, certainly. But not way faster. Not yet.

F1 carDespite his own travails during the test, Fernando Alonso – an outspoken critic of modern hybrid cars – was positive about what may come: “The cars look nice, definitely faster in the corners. It’s good to come back to that feeling of downforce through the corners to be able to push the car through the corners. I saw the cars running and they look very, very good, going in the right direction and I would like to apologise to fans of last five or six years for the horrible cars...”

Daniel Ricciardo, thicker of neck this year after off-season training to help combat higher Gs, reckons the cars will go quicker in warmer weather when the Pirelli tyres fall into their optimum operating temperature range.

Several drivers have commented that rather than having to fight the faster cars, they are enjoying the enhanced grip and stability in the faster corners.

Straight off, the Mercs looked reliable and quick. Lewis Hamilton finished day one on top. New arrival Valtteri Bottas adapted swiftly and was quick with it. Not as fast as Hamilton, mind, but close.

The Ferraris were also reliable and quickest on two of the four days, but we’ve seen that before from the red cars. This time though, the Scuderia looked more methodical and consistent and not so interested in meaningless glory runs to soothe the egos of demanding senior management back in Maranello.

Mercedes Formula One CarWilliams recruit-with-money Lance Stroll had a troubled start, shunting his new car which cost the team a day repairing the damage.

Red Bull Racing methodically worked through its program after an initial hiccup on the opening morning. Some observers seemed surprised that the new Adrian Newey-penned RB13 didn’t have obviously revolutionary body/aero styling that might make it a world beater this year.

At Barcelona, its cars were about where they were in the pecking order last year.

So far though, Mercedes seems to have maintained its advantage over the rest, despite the comprehensively revised Renault power units putting out more grunt.

The second wave of official testing starting Tuesday may tell more.

Ford 410cc Sprint Car Engine in pipeline

Tony Stewart, Donny Schatz and Ford in joint engineering project

The current GM-based 410ci sprint car engine that has been almost obligatory in this brand of oval track racing for many years is about to score some tough competition from the Blue Oval.

Reigning World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Schatz, who races under the Tony Stewart Racing banner, has indicated that the team is well down the track in developing a 410ci sprint car engine in conjunction with Ford.

Schatz said that the Ford-badged engine will be used in the Outlaws competition when it is both reliable and producing the levels of horsepower to be a potential winner.

The new Schatz-Stewart-Ford partnership brings an end to the star driver’s lengthy relationship with GM Performance.

Schatz will continue with the same Rod Shaver Engines powerplants he ran in 2016, when he landed his eighth Outlaws series championship.

Schatz’s revelation coincides with the switch to Ford by Stewart-Haas Racing, co-owned by Tony Stewart Racing team owner Tony Stewart.

There have been Ford engines in 410 sprint car racing previously…but the Blue Oval penetration of the sport has been barely evident beyond Dave Blaney’s 1995 World of Outlaws championship win driving a Ford-powered car owned by Casey Luna.

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