2016 just keeps on getting better and better. Eight different winners from the first nine races of the season mean the championship’s top five are covered by just 91 points from Lowndes in 1st to Van Gisbergen in 5th. After a shocking race on Saturday, Mark Winterbottom and Prodrive Racing Australia secured their first race win of the season in race nine of the championship in a risky, yet ultimately rewarding two stop strategy which would see Frosty hold off McLaughlin and Lowndes in the final laps of the race. Elsewhere down the field, Rick Kelly enjoyed a strong race to fifth in the Nissan Altima and Michael Caruso and Chaz Mostert also scored much needed top ten finishes, although the latter may feel slightly aggrieved coming home in sixth after starting from pole position. Below, you can find my assessment of some of the biggest talking points from race nine of the season.
You could see just how much McLaughlin’s fine second placed finish on Sunday meant to him, and everyone at GRM. After a torrid week, a response on track was exactly what the doctor ordered for Garry Rodgers Motorsport and McLaughlin led by example rising from ninth on the grid to finish just 0.3 seconds behind Winterbottom by the checkered flag. Whether McLaughlin would have been able to pass Lowndes had the #888 not just exited the pits remains another story however the young Kiwi took advantage of fully heated rubber when Lowndes’s tyres were not yet fully up to temperature when he made his move. After a tough Saturday, McLaughlin’s podium ensured he remains in the championship’s top three, just 48 points off the lead and despite struggling with tyre wear on Sunday James Moffat showed strong pace at times.
They’ve so often been the nearly team of the 2016 season, however Prodrive Racing Australia finally took the top step of the podium courtesy of Frosty’s mammoth 30 lap final stint, holding off McLaughlin and Lowndes. The PRA Falcon FGXs certainly had single lap pace at Barbagallo with Waters taking pole for Saturday and single lap specialist Mostert taking pole for Sunday’s race, and Tim Edwards will no doubt relieved that PRA finally converted their one lap pace to a long awaited race victory. Elsewhere in the PRA stable a top ten finish was also a welcome result for Mostert after a season marred by inconsistencies following his podium finish way back at the Clipsal 500, and it was a great weekend for Chris Pither whose 8th and 14th place finishes marked his best results of the season after heavy crashes in Adelaide and Tasmania.
Cam Waters’s weekend went downhill right from the lights went out on Saturday afternoon, and it was capped off by a trip through the gravel on Sunday on his way to a 26th place finish. After a stunning start to his rookie season Waters has had a difficult couple of rounds at Philip Island and Barbagallo and has fallen to 21st in the championship. Nevertheless, fluctuations in performances are common in rookie seasons, and he showed more than enough pace in the early races to prove himself worthy of his PRA seat, although it is a shame not to see David Reynolds in a competitive car this season.
DJR Team Penske struggled on a weekend when Penske boss and motorsport stalwart Roger Penske payed Barbagallo a visit. Coulthard failed to turn his strong qualifying pace into race form, falling from 5th on the grid to 15th at the flag despite looking fast in the laps immediately following pit stops. All of Coulthard, Pye and Roger Penske highlighted tyre wear as a major factor in their struggles and both DJRTP Falcons went backwards throughout their stints. Coulthard’s 15th place in race two represented DJRTP’s best result of the weekend, a far cry from Philip Island double podium and the team are yet to display the sort of consistent form to be classed as regular candidates for race wins.
It seems to me at least, that DJRTP somewhat exceeded their own expectations at the Clipsal 500 back in March, and the difficult rounds in Tasmania and at Barbagallo are a reminder that 2016 is still very much a transition year for a team who have the resources to challenge Triple Eight and Prodrive at the head of the field.
After a Triple Eight podium lockout on Saturday, Jamie Whincup was left confused in Sunday’s 200km race and ended the weekend with an 11th place finish. Early pitstops looked to have secured Whincup the undercut but as rivals swamped him on fresher tyres the six time champion fell back through the field and finished 18 seconds behind Winterbottom. Whincup falls to second place in the championship, just 52 points behind Lowndes as the series heads to Winton, where traditionally some might say Whincup has struggled for consistent results in the past. However, a strong race on Saturday means Whincup leaves Barbagallo with a trophy to his name, and safe in the knowledge that Red Bull Racing surely can’t have a mid season slump two years in a row.