There was just far too much action at the Sandown 500 to fit all my thoughts into one article, so in honour of what was one of the best races of what is an already stunning season of Supercars racing I’ve decided to bring back the Report Card in addition to my standard roundup of of the weekend’s events in my Sandown 500 Talking Points which will follow these posts. I’ve gone through each and every driver pairing (part one today, and part two tomorrow) scoring the overall effort out of ten, and given my thoughts on what were some standout (and some not so standout) drives up and down the field.
1st – Garth Tander/Warren Luff – HRT
What a drive from the defending PIRTEK Enduro Cup champions. It was Luff’s superb start off the line that ensured the #2 Commodore led into turn one and the two never looked back with Tander bringing home a damaged car in fine fashion to claim his first win since 2014. It was a welcome return to the top step for both Tander and HRT, and the Tander/Luff combo are in with a real shout at retaining the Enduro Cup crown, with both being strong at Bathurst and the Gold Coast in recent years. Super effort from everyone involved.
2nd – Shane Van Gisbergen/Alexandre Premat – Red Bull Racing
There wasn’t much more Van Gisbergen and Premat could have done on Sunday, and after months of speculation the returning Frenchman held his own in tough conditions and helped the #97 climb from 7th at the start to finish within two seconds of Tander. Had the race continued for a few more laps SVG’s impressive pace may well have overhauled Tander but a podium and the championship lead is an awesome result for the Kiwi.
3rd – Will Davison/Jonathan Webb – Tekno Autosports
Score: 9/10 (bonus marks for Davison’s epic save in the closing stages of the race)
From 10th on the grid to a podium represented a super result for Tekno after a tough few rounds. Webb drove a fantastic opening stint and handed over the Darrell Lea Stix Commodore in a great position before Davison then passed the #33, and ultimately defended from a fast duo of McLaughlin and Mostert behind. It was a much needed strong result in a race where Tekno continued to dine at VASC’s top table.
4th – Scott McLaughlin/David Wall – Volvo GRM
Despite both Volvo’s qualifying on the second row for the race I was still a little unsure of just how David Wall would run in the opening stint, especially when the heavens opened but Wall’s co driver leg in the #33 Volvo was one of the standout drives of the race, and it was great to see a Volvo (had it not been for Golding’s crash I’m sure it would have been two) back at the sharp end of the grid in an Enduro Cup race. Enduro’s haven’t been the kindest to GRM over the years and although McLaughlin and Wall were unfortunate to miss out on a podium it was a brilliant effort from the pair who showed great pace all race long.
5th – Chaz Mostert/Steve Owen – Prodrive
I’m still a little confused as to why PRA brought in Steve Owen to stack behind the superb Richie Stanaway at the driver change, and it was a move which ultimately ended up hurting the fast Supercheap Auto Falcon. Nevertheless, Mostert and Owen were PRA’s strongest performers all weekend long and despite missing out on what could have been a deserving podium it was another strong, mature and experienced race from the new driver paring and we have every reason to believe the #55 will be very strong at Bathurst.
6th – Fabian Coulthard/Luke Youlden – DJR Team Penske
An five place rise from their midfield starting position was a strong result for DJR Team Penske after their strong practice pace failed to convert into a qualifying slot on the front few rows. In contrast to some other combos, Coulthard and Youlden had a fairly quiet race, and had it not been a late pitstop would have been in contention for a podium. It would have fascinating to see a Courtney esque (think Gold Coast 2015) fuel saving drive to the finish from Coulthard vs the fast charging Davison/McLaughlin/Mostert battle pack but ultimately DJR Team Penske the right call, and after Saturday I think the team will be satisfied with sixth.
7th – Todd Kelly/Matt Campbell – Carsales Nissan Motorsport
On a weekend where Nissan recommitted to Supercars, a committed and edge or your seat drive from Todd Kelly ensured a strong seventh place finish for the #7 Altima. Campbell did well to stay out of trouble on what couldn’t have been a trickier main game debut and Kelly’s experience brought the car home. Bonus points for Todd’s incredible save in the closing laps of the race.
8th – Craig Lowndes/Stevie Richards – TeamVortex
It was a four place climb from 12th on the grid at the start, and after Richards ended up on the grass at turn four the signs were starting to appear that it was going to be a tough day in the TeamVortex garage. Richards and Lowndes drew on all their experience to drag the #888 back into the top ten come the end of the race in a car which ultimately didn’t have the pace to win, but the Enduro Cup heads to Bathurst next, and we all know how last year panned out! I fully expect Lowndes and Richards to be right up there all weekend long on the mountain.
9th – Nick Percat/Cam McConville – LDM
The field was fully of standout drives on Sunday, and I think LDM’s effort with Percat and McConville was one of them. Despite not having the best of luck with tyre choice McConville drove an extremely solid opening leg of the race, and Nick Percat, ever strong in endurance races brought the car home in the top ten. It was a welcome result for LDM, but the car had looked strong all weekend and McConville will only get more comfortable with more time in the car.
10th – Rick Kelly/Russell Ingall – Sengled Nissan Motorsport
I must say, I did expect the Nissan’s to be stronger at Sandown and although two finished inside the top ten I had earmarked Kelly and Ingall as a combo pairing capable of finishing on the podium if luck fell their way. Rick Kelly was another car, like Coulthard who had to pit close to the end to take on more fuel, but the pair did well to recover from Ingall’s rain induced off at turn four to bring the car home in 10th from 14th on the grid.
Stay tuned for part two of the Sandown 500 Report Card (positions 11 – 26) tomorrow!