Jamie Whincup reached a century of wins in the same race as Craig Lowndes finished on the podium in what was his 600th main game start, and that was just the Sunday! Along with an edge of your seat Triple Eight one two finish in race 18 on Saturday Roland Dane’s squad enjoyed one of the biggest weekends in their history at Sydney Motorsport Park, not bad for your first weekend out after Holden’s announcement that the team (more specifically Red Bull Racing Australia) will become their sole factory squad from 2017. Whilst it was Triple Eight who dominated the headlines after both races there were plenty of other notable talking points raised over the course of the Eastern Creek weekend, and I’ve begun to asses some of these in the paragraphs below. Read on to find out more.
I’ve got to say, I’m sure I’m not the only one which thinks the drive through penalty handed to James Moffat after contact with SVG on Sunday was borderline ridiculous. In fact, I know I’m not the only one as I’ve seen plenty of reaction over on Twitter and the forums! Just as the jury (me included) was beginning to question Moffat’s pace when compared to his teammate Scott McLaughlin, I’m absolutely delighted to say the #34 proved us all wrong over the course of the Sydney weekend with a fantastic performance in both qualifying and the race on Sunday in what was undoubtedly his strongest showing of the year so far. 12th and 18th place finishes mask the realities of a very solid weekend for Moffat and GRM in general, and it’s great to see the team have hit form right before the enduros.
With McLaughlin partnered with Wall, and Moffat with James Golding it’ll be fascinating to see if GRM can improve on what as previously been a series of races which has often seen the team under perform.
Shocker For Frosty and Davison
It’s all relative, and Davison endured a far less fruitful weekend than Winterbottom but both drivers who could have been considered championship contenders (Davison an outside one at that) had poor weekends when their biggest championship rivals enjoyed strong ones. 11th and 14th for Frosty, and 21st and 26th for Davison can’t have been what either garage was hoping for and an unfortunate tyre issue for Frosty, and a under fueling problem for Davison ensured both drivers were out of contention on Sunday before the race hit halfway.
With the Form of Triple Eight as strong as it is, I really don’t think Frosty can afford another bad round this season, and the weekend was a fantastic opportunity to take points off his rivals given the pace of Mostert who consistently ran at the front. PRA have made a little inroad on Triple Eight with Mostert’s car since Queensland Raceway, but still trail in overall race pace it seems. Bad weekends do happen, but it’s important for both the #1 and the #19 that they have no more of them for the remainder of the season. Frosty is now 273 points off the lead of the championship, and is going to have to rely on either a Triple Eight meltdown or a supreme run of form and luck to return to the top of the table.
Perfect Response From HRT
Getting James Courtney on the podium on Saturday, and then having both cars finish in formation, inside the top ten on Sunday was a perfect response to all their doubters in pit lane at a track where I honestly expected HRT to struggle. With Holden now out of the picture come 2017 I agree with many on the forums and on social media that this represents a great chance for Walkinshaw to start next season with a clean slate, and Sydney showed that finally, if not a little too late that the team have made progress with their Commodores. Courtney finished 3rd and 8th, and Tander 8th and 7th in what was the strongest team performance I can remember for a while and everyone at Walkinshaw should be proud of their response.
Whilst we’re still in the dark about HRT’s lineup, name and branding for next year I think we can certainly look forward to the team putting in a strong shift over the enduros and whilst a defense of last year’s PIRTEK Enduro Cup victory is only an outside possibility, the team should certainly be eyeing both Bathurst and the Gold Coast as opportunities for a race win. With all the media storm that’s surrounded the team this season it’s important that the team withdraw themselves from as much of the speculation as possible, and one way to achieve that is to re-sign James Courtney as soon as they can. The 2010 champ is clearly in demand from elsewhere, and as his fantastic overtake to move into third on Saturday showed, he’s still capable of bringing Walkinshaw back to the front of the field.
The Rest Of The Pack
Elsewhere down the field it was pretty much business as usual for the vast majority of teams down pitlane. DJR Team Penske showed far better pace on Sunday with Fabian Coulthard a beneficiary from Moffat’s clash with SVG as he passed both cars to finish the race in 4th to add to his 10th place finish on Saturday. Scott Pye continued to lay claim to the title of unluckiest driver in Supercars after a retirement on Saturday was followed by a 15th place finish on Sunday, dropping him to 17th place in the table. 17th in the championship standings is by no means a reflection on Pye’s performances this season, and I’m pleased to see rumours flying that he’s a serious contender to partner Courtney at Walkinshaw next season, although it would be a shame to see Tander booted out of the team.
Shae Davies and Karl Reindler both enjoyed trouble free weekends, and Chris Pither also continued to show signs of progress with 14th and 13th place finishes, beating his PRA stablemate Cam Waters (20th and 16th) on both days. I’ve been impressed with Pither in recent races, especially after his pole position at QR and it would be nice to see a great end to the year from the driver which endured a torrid start to 2016.
Stayed tuned to the site for my enduro cup preview in the coming days!