Wow, Sunday’s race was easily one of the most confusing, chaotic and crazy races I have seen in a long long time, yet despite all the controversy and confusion over the fuel drop and penalties the Clipsal 500 was an incredible start to the 2016 season. Easily worth staying up for three nights in a row for! I know there’s plenty of debate going around about the penalties (or lack of – I’m sure you all know who) handed down over the weekend’s three races but I don’t particularly want to focus too much on that today, you can see the debate in all it’s glory in the comments sections on the V8SC website!
Instead, after each championship round of this season I want to go down and assess the fortunes of the championships top ten drivers in each of the weekends races.
1st – Michael Caruso – 222pts, Weekend Grade: A+
If you had told me on Thursday night, or even Saturday morning that we would leave Adelaide with a Nissan at the top of the championship table, and three Altimas in the championship top ten I wouldn’t have believed a word of it, and I don’t think you could find many people who would have. Fast forward three races (or two and half) however and that’s the situation we have. Nissan really have continued their end of 2015 form into this season and it seems that Caruso, and Rick Kelly (and maybe Todd) are going to be regularly featuring inside the top ten on race day.
In spite of all the fuel drop controversy and confusion in race three, Caruso and Nissan made sure they played by the rules and did everything right and a fine 2nd place was a just reward for some great efforts over the weekend. 13th, 6th and 2nd in the weekends three races was enough to fire the NISMO Nissan Altima to the head of the championship table and whilst Caruso may struggle to stay there, more podiums and a championship top ten finish is most certainly an achievable result based on last weekend. I’m really impressed with Nissan, 2016 is an extremely important season for them (especially the start) as they ponder their future in the category and Caruso’s podium on Sunday would have done the case for staying a world of good.
2nd – Jamie Whincup – 207pts, Weekend Grade A-
Like or loathe them, T8 proved again at Adelaide that they are well among the favourites for the title. Whincup enjoyed a typically strong weekend with 1st, 2nd and 14th place finishes although the #88 Commodore did struggle (like many others) in the torrential rains on Sunday. Nevertheless, I think Whincup had the fastest car on Saturday, and his battle which Courtney in race two was one of the most exciting moments in recent touring car racing. I’m sure Whincup will be pleased to leave Adelaide 2nd in the table behind Caruso.
If, as they typically do, T8 enjoy a strong weekend in Tasmania I expect Whincup will probably take the championship lead after Symmons Plains, but after the events of last weekend I think it would be foolish to predict anything of the sort! Overall, Whincup enjoyed a very strong start to 2016 and T8 proved yet again just why they are V8SC’s top team.
3rd – Shane Van Gisbergen- 197pts, Weekend Grade B+
Considering Clipsal was SVG’s first weekend in a new team I think he enjoyed a very good weekend, and a set of 3rd, 5th and 10th place finishes represent a good haul for the Kiwi. However, I knocked SVG off an A because (and I don’t want to get too deep into the debate here) I do think he should have got a penalty in race three. You can tell how much debate there is on this by just how long the comments sections take to load on the V8SC website but I think (and I know this is controversial) SVG does get away with quite a lot, I’m thinking back to last year at Philip Island a little here.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think SVG is a great driver and I do admire the way he goes about his “no bullshit” racing but I think his supreme ability in the wet and greasy conditions would have been enough for him to win race three on Sunday (had chaos not reigned). Nevertheless, he showed flashes of great pace over the course of the weekend, especially towards the end of race two despite the car not being set up to his liking and considering this was his first weekend in the car, I can see SVG easily featuring in the championships top three/four/five all season long.
4th – Scott McLaughlin – 189pts, Weekend Grade A+
Volvo showed their true pace in qualifying for race three on Sunday when, right at the end of qualifying and faced with elimination McLaughlin put in a stunning time to secure what was provisional pole before the top ten shootout. I don’t think the GRM Volvo was by any means the fastest car over the course of the weekend, however McLaughlin consistently featured inside the top five and enjoyed a much improved opening weekend of the season when compared to last year. As Moffat’s breakdown showed, GRM haven’t completely solved last seasons reliability problems however 4th, 4th and 12th over the weekends three races for McLaughlin was a good start to 2016.
5th – Garth Tander – 187pts, Weekend Grade A-
Had GT not received his 15 point penalty for contact with Whincup during race three he would be sitting pretty in 3rd place in the championship just 5 points behind the #88. However, as a team HRT enjoyed typically strong weekend at the Clipsal 500, something they need to do more regularly if they are to challenge in 2016. Tander capped off a strong weekend with a 3rd place finish in race 3, adding to a 5th and an unfortunate 23rd from Saturday and to leave Adelaide in 5th place in the championship, which I think represents a strong start to 2016.
The HRT Commodores always go well at street circuits however, so I think we’ll have to wait until we see how they go at Albert Park and Symmons Plains before we can begin to judge if their switch to two cars has paid off. But a fine podium on Sunday was just reward for Tander’s efforts in Adelaide.
6th – James Courtney – 186pts, Weekend Grade A++
For me, and for most people (judging by the poll on V8supercars.com.au) JC was by far and away the best performer of the weekend and an unfortunate 60 second penalty for not complying with the fuel drop saw JC finish the weekend with a 21st place, an unlucky end to what could have been an incredible opening weekend. Turn 8 on the final lap of race two on Saturday surely has to go down as one of the most sublime pieces of car control in recent memory, especially when you consider JC had been under immense pressure from the faster T8 Commodore of Whincup for a large part or the closing laps. If HRT can continue this form in the seasons upcoming races then I think they really can challenge the top five but as I said with Tander, we’ll have to reserve judgement until after Tasmania.
Nevertheless, JC proved again in 2016 that he is the top dog when it comes to the Clipsal 500, and if it wasn’t for the chaos which reigned on Sunday I think he would have left Adelaide in the championship’s top two.
7th – Cameron Waters – 184pts, Weekend Grade A
I have to agree 100% with what Russell Ingall said of Cam Waters on Sunday, that he had everything possible thrown at him over the course of the Clipsal 500 and to come out of the weekend 7th in the championship is a mark of a future champion. 15th, 12th and a 4th from his first (proper) three races in the main game with his own engineer and car is a good start to Waters’ V8SC career. Especially when considering he leaves Adelaide as the top PRA car in the championship table with Frosty following in 12th place.
Getting into the top ten shootout by his own merit on Sunday will have done CWs’ confidence the world of good heading into the rest of 2016 and he proved throughout the weekend’s three races he is more than capable of mixing it in the midfield, although we already knew that after Pukukhoe last year! Considering this was his first weekend proper with the big boys, I think Cam Waters can only improve as the season goes on, which should be making Frosty and Mostert look over their shoulders.
8th – Todd Kelly – 181pts, Weekend Grade B++
I have to say, I am surprised to see Todd in the championship’s top ten. I honestly (as I said in my Nissan preview) thought that Rick Kelly and Caruso we’re the clear top drivers over at Nissan Motorsport however on the basis of his 6th, 16th and 6th place finishes at the weekend I stand corrected, for the moment at least. I think Todd’s presence in the top 10 reflects, and confirms the progress Nissan have made over the last few months however I think, like HRT we should wait a few more rounds before judging their progress.
All in all however, Todd Kelly enjoyed a really strong Adelaide weekend and two top ten finishes show that when the car is song, he’s capable of producing big points scoring finishes.
9th – Nick Percat – 171pts, Weekend Grade A+
What an awesome moment for Nick Percat to get LDM’s first V8SC win, and it was a long time coming for the 2011 Bathurst Champ. I don’t think anyone really expects Percat to stay in the top ten however Clipsal 500 victory on Sunday was a fine turnaround for a driver whose Saturday results read 21st and DNS. Lucas Dumbrell mentioned how important Percat’s victory was for the team as they chase sponsorship and funds to complete the rest of the season and SP Tools must be one of the happiest sponsors around this week. I wasn’t aware until reading Dumbrell’s comments that SP Tools hadn’t signed to cover both cars for the whole season but after Percat’s win on Sunday, I really hope they do. Plus the two cars look great.
I’ve always thought Percat had the ability to win races at the top level, and he was unlucky to be shunned from Walkinshaw for 2015. However, with Tander and Courtney’s contracts up at the end of the year, if HRT chose to replace one or both of their drivers then this Clipsal victory, combined with a strong season could propel Percat into the front runners when considering a replacement. After all, Tander and Percat won the 2011 Bathurst 1000 in a HRT Commodore.
10th – Rick Kelly – 171pts, Weekend Grade B++
Rick, along with Caruso has long been Nissan’s top performing driver so to see him sneak into the championship’s top ten, level on points with Percat is no surprise. Like with his older brother, Rick’s presence in the top ten confirms the pace of the Nissan Altimas in very real however unlike Todd, I do expect Rick to stay in the top ten over the course of the season.
The Sengled Nissan finished 9th, 13th and 7th over the three races in Adelaide.
Unfortunate to Miss Out on the Top 10
- Craig Lowndes
- Scott Pye
- Fabian Coulthard