Richards heads FPR 1-2 in controversial Darwin
1 January 1901
Ford Performance Racing's Steven Richards believes that it is not how drivers handle victory, but how they handle defeat that will determine how the V8 Supercar championship is played out.
Richards made the pronouncement after guiding FPR to a first-ever 1-2 round result at the SkyCity Triple Crown Challenge at Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin, guiding the Ford squad back on track after a controversial second race.
“This is the best team I have been involved with, in that, when we've had a bad round, we've always bounced back," Richards said after claiming race three victory to head team-mate Mark Winterbottom and Holden's Garth Tander on the round podium.
"We really look at what went wrong, we set things straight and make sure it never happens again. When you do that then, all of a sudden, you have a great organisation. It's nice to have the win after the last few disappointing rounds. It's not only that, but having two cars on the podium - let alone a 1-2 - is an outstanding effort. And I am ever hopeful that things can get even better than this.”
Richards has ridden on the back of his team - and the challenge of Winterbottom, who retained the championship lead after the weekend - to some extent this season, but came into his own at the end of a week where Ford has come under the microscope for withdrawing funding from the majority of its teams. FPR escaped the cull, along with Stone Brothers Racing, but Richards insisted that it was important for the team to shine at Hidden Valley.
“There's no doubt it was a great result for our team under the circumstances, but the next three rounds, in my mind, are absolutely critical for what's going to fall out in the championship,” he said of the three events in three states with two weeks between each, “It's going to put an enormous amount of pressure on the teams to turn cars around, but also maintain the detail and the car preparation. It's a really important phase of the championship and, on the back side of Winton, we are really going to see how the championship is unfolding.”
FPR's latest comeback followed a bizarre incident in race two of the Darwin round, when a safety car was called to remove a banner - and a Holden banner at that - from the middle of the track. Amid suggestions that a fan, unhappy with Ford's recent domination of the result, may have allowed the flag to trespass onto the racing surface, the race turned on its ear under the caution.
It sparked the opportunity that Tander wanted, and the Toll HRT driver swooped at the restart, taking a look on the outside of Richards on the straight and then dipping to the inside on the switchback to take the race lead with five laps to go.
“I didn't see the flag as causing too much grief - and it didn't deserve a safety car,” Richards said, having also claimed that his car had stuck in gear at the restart, "It had been there for five or six laps, and wasn't an issue at all.”
For Tander, however, the flag was a turning point, albeit not enough to help him take overall victory.
“We got quite lucky at the restart,” he admitted, “After Sandown it's a great fight back. A lot of people asked a lot of questions of HRT after Sandown and I think we've now answered that.”
Winterbottom had lost his early advantage when the FPR crew struggled to turn him around quickly at his mandatory pit-stop, allowing both Richards and Tander through, and had to settle for third, ahead of the two Team Vodafone Falcons of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup. Russell Ingall took sixth, ahead of Jason Richards, Mark Skaife, Rick Kelly and Will Davison.
Tander and Winterbottom were equal on points going into the last of the weekend's three races, with Richards just four points off the pace, but it was the latter who made the most of the start, rocketing past Tander on the opening lap and never being headed thereafter - despite another safety car appearance - as he claimed his first round win since Perth two years ago. Winterbottom also passed Tander and was seldom troubled as he backed Richards up in a 1-2 result.
Tander, meanwhile, was equally comfortable in third, taking a similar result from the round to keep himself in title contention behind Winterbottom.
"Third's a great result for the team," he insisted, "We changed the car considerably after yesterday's race and were closer after race two, which gave us direction for the final. The problem was the way my car used its tyres yesterday - we didn't have the rubber to do a good enough job. Our pace was pretty good towards the end and Mark [Winterbottom] was making a lot of mistakes. I thought we could pressure him into making a mistake, but it wasn't to be.”
Ingall came through to claim fourth after both Team Vodafone Fords ran into problems - Whincup having been squeezed out at the start and Lowndes losing his engine on the penultimate lap - while Davison completed the top five for Jim Beam Racing.
“It was very disappointing,” Lowndes said, “We made a number of changes to the car between today's two races and I really felt that we had a handle on everything. Then I felt a slight vibration on the second last lap, which escalated to a very big vibration - and then 'bang'.”
Winterbottom now leads the championship by 58 points from Tander, with Whincup a further 68 points back in third.