It was a long time coming, but in his 227th race start Tim Slade finally made it to the 1st place sign in victory lane in what was a assured and confident drive from pole position. We’ve now had nine different race winners in the first ten races of the season with new championship leader Scott McLaughlin continuing to be the only driver to have won more than just the once. As fans the world over reflect on a popular victory for Slade and Brad Jones Racing here are another four big talking points which surfaced over the course of Saturday’s race.
Purple patch for Scott McLaughlin, tangles for James Moffat
In a week where VASC’s hottest property revealed he had held conversations with DJR Team Penske, McLaughlin continued his rich vein of form stretching back to Philip Island with a mature display to keep what ultimately looked like a faster Frosty behind him for the last half of the race. GRM look like a team fighting with renewed vigour after what can’t have been the start to the season they were hoping for but if they can continue showing up on the podium then I think McLaughlin is a real championship contender, even with the might of Triple Eight hot on his heels. I doubt there’s many people who wouldn’t be pleased if GRM lifted the title at the end of the season, especially considering the Volvo drama the team must be going through behind the scenes but it was another impressive drive for McLaughlin after a great getaway off the line. He’s leading the team from the front.
Unfortunately it was McLaughlin’s teammate James Moffat who probably endured the most frustrating Saturday afternoon as he finished five laps down after damage following contact on lap one. Moffat’s form since Philip Island has been puzzling, especially because he had looked to have finally got the hang of the S60 a month or so ago. Having a teammate inside the top ten to help take points off his rivals and be an immense help in McLaughlin’s quest for a championship, and I mentioned earlier on in the season the importance of having two competitive cars in any team.
Waters goes backwards again
After a scintillating opening few races where, at one point Waters looked set to sit 4th in the championship table luck hasn’t followed the 2015 Dunlop Series champion since his mechanical dramas way back at Symmons Plains. Following his maiden pole position at Barbagallo, Waters once again confirmed the single lap pace of the Falcon FGX by qualifying his car on the second row of the gird but once again, like in Perth, the race saw him tumble backwards.
Of course, in his rookie season he should have the opportunity to be exempt from criticism more than most, however it can’t have gone unnoticed at Prodrive that Winterbottom seems to be their only driver able to hold his qualifying position in the races. An unfortunate tangle with Courtney effectively ended hopes of a top ten finish for both drivers after a good battle through the opening corners of the lap, but with Jack Le Brocq lining up alongside Waters for the Enduros I’m excited to see just what kind of impression the two rising stars can make.
Do Nissan lack the cutting edge?
Winton is arguably Nissan’s best chance of securing a race victory this season. It’s a track where the Altima has traditionally been strong and Rick Kelly put in another fine performance to ensure all four manufacturers were represented in the top four finishing positions. It’s clear that the Nissan Altima has clearly come on leaps and bounds since it’s debut in 2013 but after today’s race I was left thinking if Nissan are lacking that cutting edge to turn the Altima into a race winning car. There’s plenty of noise coming from both inside, and outside the Nissan Motorsport camp as to just how much progress has been made, even Rick Kelly’s enduro co-driver Russell Ingall was saying just last week how good of a car the Altima was, yet the team still don’t seem to be able to make that final step and become race winners, and it seems that there is one more piece of the jigsaw still missing.
On paper, its extremely difficult to try and pinpoint a particular area of concern, but the one that springs to mind above all others is their driver lineup. On a weekend where Rick Kelly marked another career milestone, he was once again Nissan’s highest finisher but I can’t help but think that a radical driver shakeup could be the key to turning the Altima from a top ten finisher, to a race winner. With the likes of Courtney and Tander out of contract at the end of the year, maybe Nissan would find it worthwhile to trim down a car or two, and splash the cash on a driver who’s capable of challenging at the very front?
Struggles for some big players
Craig Lowndes had a difficult race after a poor qualifying and finished behind the Nissan Altima of Dale Wood in 14th place, relinquishing the championship lead in the process. Of course, in a field as competitive as this one poor race should be no alarm for concern however another team who might be slightly disappointed is DJR Team Penske who saw Pye finish 12th and Coulthard 17th after another unimpressive qualifying. DJRTP have had an odd start to the season. After the promise of Clipsal, where they were unexpectedly among the fastest cars in the field the team have suffered a little bit of a reality check in recent races following two strong podiums at Philip Island.
Many of the expectations placed on DJRTP have been somewhat made by VASC fans (myself included) who perhaps thought that the Clipsal 500 marked the arrival of another team at VASC’s top table but DJR have said themselves that 2016 so far, is exactly what they expected. In time, and with the might of Roger Penske behind them the team will come good, and I’m sure they will develop into championship contenders, however it will be interesting to see which drivers are at the team when they do.