Tander, Percat return HRT to Bathurst winners' circle
9 October 2011
Toll Holden Racing Team returned to the winner's podium to erase a year of turmoil by winning one of motorsport's greatest prizes, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
New father Garth Tander and rookie Nick Percat, the first man to win at Bathurst on debut since 1977, held off a rampant Craig Lowndes in one of the greatest finishes in the history of an already amazing race. With all of his guile and cunning, former series champion Tander was somehow able to keep Lowndes back in the last five laps when a seven-second lead turned into a gap of less than a second.
Pepsi Racing Crew's Greg Murphy and his Danish partner Allan Simonsen battled all day with a variety of dramas but held on to give the Kiwi another podium finish, but the ferocious battle up front was the big story of the day after another epic which included a massive crash - and fireball - for David Besnard, multiple safety cars, including one for a kangaroo and another for an ill official, and Lowndes and Triple Eight Team Vodafone team-mate Mark Skaife having to queue three times in the pits.
“I'm not sure how he did it,” Percat said of Tander's finishing performance, but the veteran admitted that he knew just where to pace himself to keep Lowndes at bay.
“It was a bit closer than we would have liked but we got there in the end,” Tander said, “What this will do is give the team a lot of belief that we are going in the right direction. To win this weekend is amazing and fantastic for the team. We will get a lot from this - but we still have work to do.”
Lowndes lamented having to queue at those three pit-stops, but put it down to the extenuating circumstances.
“It's one of those situations in a team when you have got two fast cars that are circulating around the same time and position it happens,” Lowndes said of the battle with regular team-mate Jamie Whincup and co-driver Andrew Thompson.
“Every time we were in our pit window a safety car was called," Lowndes said, "I'm not sure how much time we lost, but it was a fair bit. It is frustrating.”
Skaife agreed, insisting that 'it certainly made us earn our money today - that was a pretty tough gig'.
Polesitter Murphy was surprised that he and Simonsen managed to pop up at the end, with the team's persistence through a rough day paying dividends.
“It was hard, real hard work," the Kiwi claimed, "We are shocked to be where we ended up.”
Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom was the highest placed Blue Oval driver in fourth, with Jason Bright, Shane van Gisbergen, James Courtney, Russell Ingall, Tony d'Alberto and Michael Caruso rounding out the top ten.
Whincup and Thompson were one of the hard luck stories of the race, with alternator problems dropping them out of contention late in the race when poised for a shot at another Triple Eight victory. Whincup's misfortune means that regular team-mate Lowndes now leads the V8 Supercar Championship standings by 100 points.
Veteran Besnard suffered the crash of the day in the Jim Beam Falcon he shared with Steven Johnson when he spun backwards into the wall at more than 130km/h as he worked his way up the mountain after a pit-stop. A loss of radio communications led to him not 'pumping' the brakes to get the pressure up after a pad change.
"We put new pads in and, normally, you are told to pump the brakes,” Besnard said, “I wasn't told, and I take some of the blame for that, but started pumping the brakes [at turn two] and there was nothing there. Right at the end, going into the corner, they came up, but I locked the rears and went into the wall. I've had some big ones, but not for a few years - and I've never had flames, which is not great. It's alright if you have a packet of marshmallows, but that was no fun.”
Rookie Cameron Waters, still on his L-plates on public roads, saw his Bathurst dream evaporate on only his fifth lap in the race when he hit the wall at Forrests Elbow.
The team eventually got his car back some hours later, and subsequently gave the 17-year old valuable time behind the wheel to gain experience, despite the fact he was more than 50 laps behind.
“At the end of the day, it was my mistake and there's not much I can do about it,” the youngster said, “I was on cold tyres and I probably pushed a little hard for what I had.”