The 2018 running of the Sandown 500 perhaps failed to live up to the excitement and close finishes of recent years, but it was still an entertaining race. It was one of those races which threw up more questions than answers once the checkered flag had fallen, with one question on everybody’s mind. Just how good will Triple Eight be at Bathurst? After a weekend where Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell dominated at Sandown from more or less start to finish, I’ve given my thoughts on this year’s Sandown 500, who impressed, and who has got something to worry about both for Bathurst and the remainder of the season.
Triple Eight In Sensational Form
Whichever way you look at it, Triple Eight crushed the entire field on Sunday. Whether you’re a fan of the team or not, a dominant podium lockout in one of the year’s biggest races is a fantatsic acheivement, and not one to be taken lightly. Whincup and Dumbrell were supreme, and the Triple Eight ZB Commodore was in a league of its own at Sandown. Car #1 effectively led all 161 laps of Sunday’s race, finishing 6s clear of Shane van Gisbergen and Earl Bamber, and 25s ahead of the next team and driver combo, DJR Team Penske, McLaughlin and Premat.
Triple Eight have been on an upward turn of form since Townsville back in July, and in a league of their own since The Bend Supersprint. With Bathurst up next, and the long straights which go with it, its hard to look past the team’s three cars for at least a podium finish, but we all know that anything can happen on the mountain. Previous years have seen Triple Eight occasionaly loose their cool in the heat of the intense Bathurst competition but if Sandown was anything to go by, they look well drilled and reliable.
McLaughlin’s 4th place finish alongside Alexandre Premat means that SVG’s champinship lead extends to just 55 points, well within reach. However the rate of Triple Eight’s development of the ZB Commodore since July has been incredible, commendale, and worrying for Ford and DJR Team Penske fans.
Tickford Regressing. Still.
Tickford managed just one top-ten finish on Sunday, courtesy of Chaz Mostert and James Moffat in the Supercheap Auto Falcon. Often strong in the enduros, I had Tickford down as one of my teams to watch, and an outside chance of a race win should any of the frontrunners slip up, but if anything Sunday’s race demonstrated just how far the team has fallen in the space of 12 months. Waters/Stanaway and Mostert/Owen managed 1st and 3rd repsectively in last year’s race, and despite rehetoric of a positive mid season test a few weeks ago, the Tickford Falcon FG X is moving not fowards, but even further backward down the championship’s pecking order.
From starting positions of 5th for Winterbottom/Canto and 7th for Mostert/Moffat the potential was there for better results on Sunday. However, whether its simply the fact that the Falcon FG X is approaching four years old, running a four-car team is too great a workload, the rest of the field have caught up the development race or something else entirely, it’s looking like 2018 is more or less a write-off for Tickford. 2019 and the new Ford Mustang can’t come soon enough.
Co-Drivers Star Once Again
A personal highlight of mine from Sandown is always looking at how the co-drivers fare in the cars after almost 12 months away from compeition, and for some, the first time in their careers. Sunday’s race was once again a brilliant opportunity to see some of the old guard continue to perform at the highest level, and a chance to see some of Australia’s up and coming touring car talent in action.
Earl Bamber was impressive on his Supercars debut. Pre-Sandown 500 I’d picked out Bamber as a potential weak link in Triple Eight’s lineup. Not because he is a two-times Le Mans 24-Hour winner and 2017 WEC Champion, but beacause we all know how difficult Supercars is for a rookie, even if that includes establised drivers from other series’. Bamber drove brilliantly all weekend on his way to second place alongside SVG. He will no doubt be an integral part of the Kiwi’s championship charge and with Bathurst coming up, his endurance racing pedigree could stand him in good stead for another strong result.
Two other co-drivers who really impressed over the course of the Sandown weekend were Will Brown and Aaren Russell. Brown, driving alongside Anton De Pasquale in the #99 Erebus Commodore drove a great qualifying race in tough conditions to 12th place, before a strong opening stint of the race cemented what was a brilliant debut weekend for the rookie. Russell was another who impressed greatly in the hailstorm of qualifying race one, bringing the #7 Nissan Altima he shared with Andre Heimgartner home in a fine first place. The duo would go on to start Sunday’s race in 6th, before falling to 14th at the flag.
With the pressure-cooker of Bathurst up next, all the co-drivers will face a test far sterner than Sandown. But Brown and Russell, along with the Triple Eight duo of Dumbrell and Bamber will be keen for another strong showing in the most important race of them all.
Damage Limitation For McLaughlin, and Reynolds Misses Best Of The Rest
It was a case of damage limitation for Scott McLaughlin given the pace of the Triple Eight cars. 4th place in Sunday’s race was about the best DJR Team Penske could have hoped for, and by finishing best of the rest, and 1st of the retro runners, McLaughlin limited the amount of points conceeded to SVG. Suffering from a lack of straighline speed all weekend it was a case of balance and comprise for DJR Team Penske and McLaughlin as they battled between low downforce and low top speeds. In the end, 4th represents a respectable result given the form of Triple Eight, but the whole of the DJR Team Penske camp will be concerned ahead of Bathurst about their speed of their main championship rivals. In the race, Premat and McLaughlin were powerless to hunt down the #1, #97 and #888 and a late-race cat and mouse with Reynolds saw McLaughin finish 3s clear of the Erebus Commodore.
Even after the completion of qualifying it was hard to imagine Renyolds remaining in 1st position until the end of Sunday’s race. The #9 Erebus was on the pace all weekend but like the rest of the field struggled against Triple Eight. Youlden and Reynolds drove a solid race to 5th place despite early contact appearing to damage Youlden’s steering. The pair will be confident ahead of Bathurst, where they won last year. Erebus are contining to improve and develop into a top-tier Supercars team.
Standout Drivers – It’s hard to look past Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell,
Standout Team – Again, its difficuly to pick anyone other than Triple Eight.
Standout Moment – Aaren Russell’s drive in qualifying race one.
Honourable Mention – The amazing recovery drive by car #33 from the back of the field to 9th on Sunday.
Biggest Dissapointment – Tickford, who probably can’t wait for the season to end.
What were your thoughts on the Sandown weekend? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!