History repeats as Tander, Davison claim 500
13 September 2009
For the second year in succession, the Toll Holden Racing Team stole victory from the jaws of defeat in a head-to-head scrap with TeamVodafone at the L&H 500 at Phillip Island.
And, again, it was Garth Tander that seized the dramatic last lap victory after roughly 499km and three hours of edge-of-the-seat racing, doing to Craig Lowndes what he did to Jamie Whincup last year after the #888 car ran out of luck with its tyres on the last lap. The sweet victory was Tander's second straight at the Phillip Island endurance event, but the first for new team-mate Will Davison.
Ford Performance Racing's Steven Richards and Mark Winterbottom finished third, with the two Jim Beam Fords, of James Courtney/Steven Johnson and enduro squad members Jonathan Webb and Warren Luff rounding out the top five.
“With five laps to go, the boy said to just conserve fuel, we are going to get second,” Tander said, “Then, with three to go, they said 'go as hard as you can and see what happens'. Craig kept coming back to me, and I wondered if he was low on fuel as well, but then he started to slide around a bit and it was on.
“It was an amazing race. It was 500km absolutely flat out. I don't think there was ever more than two seconds between the two cars the whole way round. PI has been very kind to me in the past few years, but we will absolutely take it. I think we will go out and help the economy a little tonight.”
A nervous Davison watched it all unfold from the garage having done his job behind the wheel earlier in the race.
“We'd already had a chat and said second is not bad - we'll use it as a great platform for Bathurst," he revealed, "But, In this sport, you just never know. I nearly thought second was it.”
An initially devastated Lowndes had come to terms with the loss after he appeared to have run away with the race after he passed Tander on lap 98.
“It was a bit of a shame,” he said, “We were one lap short really. Now I know how Jamie feels, it is gut-wrenching.”
Winterbottom and Richards are also well placed going into next month's Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 with their continued form resurgence.
“It's a great relief,” Richards admitted, “FPR has been working really hard and now we are pushing all the right buttons. It gives us really good direction going to Bathurst. We should be really pleased with that result.”
In an action-packed race, hearts stopped at one stage as Cameron McConville escaped what could have been an horrific accident, At around 280kmh, the Team BOC/WOW Racing Holden clipped the rear of Steve Owen on the main straight, sending the #8 car careering out of control through a massive gravel trap. McConville was still travelling at extremely high speed when he cleared the other end of the trap and, still out of control, crossed back over the track, going backwards. With nothing he could do, he hurtled straight into oncoming traffic - which only missed him by a matter a feet.
“It's any wonder he struggles to get a regular drive,” McConville said of his rival, “It shouldn't happen... I was trying to pass him down the inside and he just kept on moving over. I had a run on him and there is just no point blocking like that on lap 20-odd of a 113-lap race. He must have just clipped my wheel as he continued to block... what do you do? It was just not worth arguing over that piece of territory with 90-odd laps to go - it was just stupid!”
It was also a tough day for former World Superbike champion Troy who did not complete a single lap of the main race when his team-mate Dean Fiore broke an alternator belt on the warm-up lap.
“It's a shame, but these things happen,” Bayliss sighed, “As soon as the car couldn't come back under its own steam, we couldn't start the race. It just wasn't meant to be today.”
Same for Kiwi Fabian Coulthard, who blew an engine at high speed on lap five, sending him on a merry ride as smoke poured out of the rear of his Wilson Security Racing Falcon.
“I was hard on the throttle pulling fourth gear and it all went wild,” Coulthard reported, “There were flames pouring out everywhere. It's a hard thing to swallow, but we need to come back stronger and tougher for Bathurst.”
Lee Holdsworth was another early casualty in an incident similar to McConville's, although not as scary. He broke the front suspension of the car he shared with Michael Patrizi along the way, ending the day for the form Garry Rogers Motorsport pair.
Conversely, veteran pair Mark Skaife and Greg Murphy had a great day, coming from 21st to eleventh. Skaife was coming out of retirement for the two endurance events, and admitted that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself.
“It was great to get back behind the wheel,” Skaife said, “It was good to grab some match fitness for Bathurst, and both 'Murph' and I will be fired up for a big effort.”