WINNING, BY A TEKNO KNOCKOUT
What was looking like one of the most straightforward Bathurst 1000 races in a decade turned into anything but – and the man in the middle of both ‘chapters’ of the race was Jamie Whincup.
The man who dominated race week at the Mountain did not win the race. Well, he did. Jamie Whincup crossed the line first but had earned himself a 15-second time penalty, added to his race time, for his part in trying to redress a clumsy overtaking situation at The Chase with Scott McLaughlin. At the end of the race, with 15 seconds added, he was re-classified back to 11th.
So Will Davison won, with co-driver and Tekno Autosports team owner, Jonathan Webb.
Shane van Gisbergen was second, seemingly able to pass any other driver at Forrest’s Elbow – except Davison, who resisted him not once but twice.
And third was Nick Percat. He continued an extraordinary list of results at The Mountain – he has not always been in the most fashionable of cars but he and co-driver Cameron McConville made every opportunity count.
What can you say about the results of a race in which the three cars on the podium started from 17th, sixth and 22nd?
Well, it started early in the day…
It would be easy to assume that the Sunday morning warm-up was a case of more of the same. Whincup topped the times with a 2:06.7665s lap, by only 0.09s, ahead of Garth Tander. If the #2 was not quite the sharpest tool in the shed in Qualifying, few would have been surprised that it was rapid in race trim.
Scott McLaughlin was third ahead of Davison, who looked the best he had all weekend. And fifth was Craig Lowndes; at last, car #888 was on the same page, tyre-wise, as everyone else, and predictably, now that the car was race-ready, so were Lowndes and Richards.
There were a few issues to sort before the start. Todd Kelly felt that his gearbox was not quite right and parked early, the crew starting a transmission swap immediately, and when it came to roll out, all was not right at DJR Team Penske. The Scott Pye car would not start, stranding Tony D’Alberto, with 10 minutes to get the car out of pitlane. They made it, after changing a fuel map.
Whincup and Paul Dumbrell both stood alongside the car on pole, but at 11:04, six minutes before the latest start in the race’s history, JDub pulled on his helmet and climbed in. The team had reacted to most cars starting with the Main drivers – with the exception of Tony D’Alberto and Renee Gracie. It looked to be a conservative decision, but one that also underlines T8’s primary endurance strategy; take track position, and do whatever it takes to maintain it.
The first chapter of the race lasted 90 laps – without a Safety Car. Whincup and Dumbrell dominated, leading most of the laps, by far, and every time someone else put their hand up, the men in #88 put them back in their place.
Lowndes had made a great start, passing two cars before the first corner and another couple on the opening lap, to come around in 16th. By lap 14, he had caught Davison, which was crucial, as it was a battle for pitlane priority. But he struggled to get past; Will knew the importance of track position and on lap 15 Lowndes resolved the issue, peeling in and separating himself from his garage-mate.
Steven Richards drove 17 laps in his stint, running 11th, but when he pitted, there was soon a drama. A gear linkage broke, sticking the car in third, prompting them to pit. This put them seven laps down and, effectively, out of the race.
There was another contender who took themselves out of contention before there were 100 laps left to run. Tim Slade was, somewhat predictably, swift in the Freightliner car, running inside the top 10. But some swift work in the pits, and a strong stint from Ash Walsh, took them even further and, during his opening stint, not only was Walsh running second, he was holding the gap to leader Dumbrell steady at 10-11 seconds.
But when he finished a double stint, it all quickly went wrong. A sloppy pitstop saw the front-right brake erupt in flames, and the car lost two laps while it was dealt with. It was a big loss; car #14 looked to have Red Bull-challenging speed, which he proved by taking a run at Whincup’s new lap record. It was a 2:07.2252s effort, with a purple sector, on lap 75, at least proving that the speed was still there.
But they got the laps back, and went on a charge late in the race. More of that later.
There were lots of people in the garages not particularly happy with their early race set-ups – including Davison and Webb. But they stayed confident that they did not need to overreact to the changing conditions – and they were proven right.
And with no Safety Car in the first half of the race it was starting to look like the elusive four-minute mile – a sub-six hour Bathurst 1000. By the time lap 81 was complete less than three hours had passed.
But it was not as simple as pure speed. While the #88 car had a slight edge in that department, the Prodrive Fords looked to have a slight edge in economy – so much so that the Super Cheap car twice got back in front of van Gisbergen during pit cycles. And it did not help that when that was not happening the #97 had to wait for JDub and Dumbrell to get priority service.
With 69 laps to go, the complexion of the race completely changed. At Reid Park Andrew Jones got onto the grey, then into the wall. It was a big hit, and the car was out for the day.
“It was a reasonable hit,” Jones explained. “The G-read was over 25Gs. What happened? I’m not 100 percent sure. We had just gone two laps down, and just as I came across the top of the hill I turned the wheel to go left and it didn’t go left at all. We’ll have a look and see how bad it is.”
There was a glimmer of light on BJR’s bad day. Slade got one of his laps back, and was at the tail of the queue in one of the fastest cars in the field. But, as Kim Jones said. “We need another Safety Car”.
Straight away, the leaders were in – and the full value of the early pace of Whincup and Dumbrell was on show. Dumbrell was nearly 35 seconds in front and when he pitted, Whincup was able to get away before Premat arrived. This time RBRA had avoided the dreaded double-stack, and now looked to have a 1-2 result there for the taking.
But the news was not all good. The team would have liked another lap before the Safety Car pulled off. There were 68 laps remaining; somewhere along the way Whincup would need to do 23 laps in two of the three stints. Problem was, he had done 22-lap stints so far. And van Gisbergen and Premat had both done 23.
So speed was great – except with 65 laps to go, would Whincup get to use it?
When the race restarted, Whincup had a half-second lead. And he kept it; SVG looked perfectly happy to play follow the leader and sit half a second behind Whincup, waiting for him to burn up his fuel.
Once the Safety Cars started to take effect, they cumulatively set up what was becoming a 41-lap race to the flag. The ‘Bathurst 255’ featured Whincup, up front and going at record speed; Davison, who had made his way through the field, after having the track come to him and his car’s set-up; van Gisbergen and Tander, who were preparing for a huge scrap; and Winterbottom, whose challenge was looking good, but which was doomed, coming to an end on lap 134 when a brake rotor failed in, of all places, The Chase.
“It broke at Forrest’s Elbow and wouldn’t turn,” he explained.
They were followed by McLaughlin, who was already being very careful with his fuel and whose team had already had to cope with James Moffat losing an engine on Mountain Straight.
Close behind them was Percat and James Courtney, whose day went off the boil with a pitlane penalty after slowing down to avoid stacking and delaying Todd Kelly, and other cars further behind.
Whatever did happen, Courtney got a drive-through penalty and that put him out of contention. He went on to finish 13th.
But that seemed relatively insignificant on lap 150. With Fabian Coulthard sprinting away out front, trying to build a lead in the DJR Penske Ford, and McLaughlin consolidating in second place, Whincup and Tander, who had taken a position in the pits, had been fighting for position. Whincup challenged, Tander defended – and then they started to reel in McLaughlin, who was feeling the need to save more and more fuel.
It all came to a head at The Chase. Whincup took a look at the Volvo; there was contact and the white car speared off and, wanting to redress, Whincup slowed exiting the corner, delaying Tander. In a flash, the S60 reappeared, and three cars would not fit in a space where barely two can travel.
Tander was out of the race, struggling into the pitlane with a fairly fractured Commodore, to find an understandably tearful wife and a shattered team.
“Whincup unloaded McLaughlin and then decided to jump on the brakes to redress,” he said. “Whincup started it all so they should look at that.”
And he was confident that another Bathurst win was within reach.
“We were saving a lot of fuel, we were way ahead of that.”
For his part in the incident, Whincup copped a 15-second time penalty. When there was a late-race, sixth appearance from the Safety Car, when Rick Kelly nosed into the Forrest’s Elbow wall with five laps remaining, any thoughts that Whincup might have been able to overcome the time penalty went south. By race end he had been put back to 11th.
“I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I feel sorry for the result. I will just apologise for the result. He squeezed me narrow.”
And for his role, in coming back onto the track unannounced, McLaughlin was asked to explain post-race. After finishing 15th, it did not much matter.
So, it came down to a couple of laps, of van Gisbergen challenging under brakes and Davison doing his best to resist – and at the same time, both men were being urged to save fuel. That task became more straightforward when The Chase became a no-pass zone, because of double waved yellow flags for the bunkered Todd Kelly Nissan, which had been heading for 12th place.
With one less place to cover than normal, and a slight let-up in fuel consumption, Davison hunkered down. But just when he looked home and hosed, just to add to the fun, the orange car coughed – twice – once exiting The Chase on the final lap, and again in the final corner, which prompted him to cover to the left, just in case.
It was an unexpected result for anyone who watched the first half of the race, and Will was delighted afterwards.
“I had Shane behind me – what do you do?” Davison said.
“Every time they asked me to save, I thought, ‘Do I save? If I do, I lose the lead. So I was trying on the last lap, I was trying to roll out [of the throttle]. I could see him in the mirror and it was all going on.
“Shane’s a good racer. It’s the biggest race of the year, of course – you are going to have a crack, aren’t you?”
Van Gisbergen was sporting in defeat.
“I got stacked behind [in the pits] three times, so it is pretty tough from our end. We had really good speed but we just kept getting caught behind [Whincup]. Our car started the day pretty average but that is what we have been working on all week, tuning it up for the end of the race. It was a pretty quiet build-up for us but we were quietly confident as well.
“It’s pretty cool. It’s one of the few cars that you would be happy to [see] beat you!”
Percat said he was in the same situation as The Giz at the start of the race and the same as Davison at the end – out of fuel.
“We started off pretty bad,” he said. During Cam’s double stint the track came to us a lot. At the end we were the same as everyone, we were saving, Cam Waters actually pushed me across the line, and the thing wasn’t running! At The Chase, it went silent under brakes, and somehow it sparked up again on the exit. The team was amazing all day, they kept doing the numbers and they kept it pretty accurate. They actually told me I was going to be fine.”
It was a strong fourth for Waters, who charged home – and nearly snatched third, falling just short of passing Percat.
“I’m absolutely wrapped with the result,” said Waters. “We’ve had a lot of bad luck recently so it’s really good to get a good result for all the boys and the whole team. We were so close to third and I was trying everything I could but I just fell short.”
Next came both DJR Penske Fords. It was far from a perfect weekend for the team but Roger Penske and his men will have seen enough to know that they are well into The Game, in their second ‘full’ year. The wrong turn that was Marcos Ambrose’s comeback is a fading memory, and all four drivers performed well. Pye proved a point by matching Coulthard when it mattered, and could raise eyebrows next year – maybe sooner.
“Fifth was the best we could do with the strategy and the Safety Cars in the last half of the race,” said Pye. “I am more than happy with that result given all the circumstances of the day.”
Said Coulthard, “It was tough today. We had a quick car but if you don’t have the Safety Cars fall your way it makes life very difficult. That is the way this race works.”
Behind the two Penske cars came… as if by a series of miracles it was BJR’s #14. Once the fire was out and the two laps were recovered, Slade tore through the field at a huge rate, and finished the race less than five seconds from the winner. Not what one might have thought about with the car in the garage, after a pitlane fire. It was a great performance from the team and the drivers.
And, for a late-race cameo, there was another man in the ‘sixes’. Whincup may have gradually snipped tenths off Greg Murphy’s legendary Lap of the Gods from 13 years ago but David Reynolds, well down the field and with fire in the belly, launched it into orbit. His fastest lap of 2:06.2769s might not stand the test of time for years, but it will take some catching. There is clear speed in the Erebus car; now they just need to translate it into results.
The net result of the race is that van Gisbergen has inched further away from Whincup in the championship points. A seven point gap going to Mount Panorama has become 139 heading to the Gold Coast – a track on which both men have shone in previous seasons.
It will only be a matter of time before there are more big decisions made to determine who lifts the crown for 2016.
But Will Davison has a second Bathurst win and Jono Webb has pulled off an amazing Bathurst double – and Davison has snuck up to fourth in the championship. Just when we thought we knew what will happen, we really, really don’t…
Date posted: November 9, 2016