The safety car gave us yet another grandstand finish in Townsville as James Courtney, Cam Waters and Scott Pye (to name but a few) carved their way through the field on fresh tyres in the closing laps of race. I mentioned earlier on in the week on Twitter that Townsville was probably HRT’s best chance of a podium since the Clipsal 500 and Courtney certainly didn’t disappoint after a brilliant comeback from a poor qualifying which saw him fail to make the top ten shootout. Elsewhere down the field, it was another impressive run from Reynolds who really seems to be finding his feet at Erebus and there were much needed top ten finishes from Cam Waters and Jason Bright, two other drivers who took advantage of the late safety car to pit for new tyres. Read on to see my assessment of the biggest talking points from Sunday’s 70 lap race in Townsville.
Frosty Bounces Back, But Red Bull Look Strong
After a torrid Sunday at the Darwin Triple Crown, Winterbottom was back to his consistent best in Townsville and two podium finishes and a pole position ensures he stays in touch at the top of the championship table, despite losing out to SVG over the 200km race. I’m not sure about anyone else, but after being one of the best at coping with tyre degradation on Saturday I expected Frosty to come back at Van Gisbergen in the closing laps of the race, especially after the safety car restart but the Kiwi had to much pace for the defending champion. Winterbottom was unlucky to lose out on 2nd place to James Courtney in a drag race to the checkered flag but I think everyone at the Bottle O’ Racing Team can be satisfied with their weekend’s work, which included a great lap for pole in the shootout.
Van Gisbergen really seems to be coming into his own now that he’s finally getting to grips with his #97 Triple Eight Commodore, and he followed up his impressive pace in Darwin with another victory in Townsville after a critical pass on Frosty to take the lead. SVG had a quieter start to the season than many expected after the fanfare of his Triple Eight arrival but over the last two rounds the Kiwi has emerged as a serious championship contender and Van Gisbergen and Whincup seem incredibly well matched in both qualifying and race pace. Come the end of the season, who will finish the highest out of the three T8 run cars is still to close to call but I think we can certainly expect all of Whincup, Lowndes and SVG to be in the championship fight to the very end.
Pace wise, it looked like Triple Eight had the edge on Prodrive here in Townsville, and although we can expect the advantage to swing both ways in the remaining races this season Frosty’s championship challenge will be reliant on the consistency which he has displayed so aptly so far this season.
Nissan Struggled After The Highs Of Darwin
After Caruso’s victory in Darwin the Nissan Factory Team were brought crashing back to Earth in Townsville on a weekend when none of their cars looked on the pace. After some savvy strategy Caruso managed to salvage 8th, just ahead of Jason Bright and is now the sole Nissan in the championship’s top ten. The Kelly brothers were caught up in the wars all weekend long and Dale Wood fell down the order on Sunday to eventually finish 18th after a good qualifying and some strong pace early on in the race. Nissan will certainly be disappointed, but Queensland raceway should suit the Altima more than Townsville and it will be important for the team to get at least two cars back in the top ten.
Tough Weekend For LDM
It wasn’t the easiest of weekends for Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport. After a sponsorship drama before the racing even began, both Percat and Heimgartner failed to finish the race on Sunday and it’s just Aaren Russell and Kurt Kostecki keeping the LDM pair off the bottom of the championship. Percat’s season certainly isn’t living up to the promise and fanfare which came with his Clipsal 500 victory back in March and the revoked sponsorship deal is certainly going to hurt a team like LDM who operate with a fraction of the budgets of the larger teams. Nick Percat has already publicly stated he would like to move on to bigger and better things in 2017, but Clipsal aside I see little in terms of results that would persuade the likes of Garry Rodgers Motorsport or HRT to seek his services.
The Chasing Pack
Whilst the safety car allowed Jamie Whincup to jump right back into contention after being left out on worn tyres in the opening stint, it effectively destroyed any hopes of a good result for Will Davison as he was forced to stack behind Lowndes as the field flocked to the pits. Davison certainly had the pace to finish in the top ten on Sunday, and was the fastest car on track in the closing stages of the race but after being frustrated by the close quarters action of the midfield the Tekno Autosports driver went on to finish just behind stablemate Lowndes in 10th place. I think Davison and Tekno will see Sunday’s race as a lost opportunity. Whilst not having the pace to match Van Gisbergen for the win, 5th place was achievable this afternoon.
That 5th place went to Scott McLaughlin, who had a relatively quiet race to keep himself within reach of the top of the championship table after a disappointing qualifying and race on Saturday. The Volvo S60 was much improved on Sunday and like Davison, McLaughlin clearly didn’t have the pace to challenge for victory and solid points haul was just what the doctor ordered.
- Red Bull Racing
- Mark Winterbottom
- Cam Waters
- Craig Lowndes
- Nissan Motorsport
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