Toll HRT pairing Garth Tander and Mark Skaife pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in V8 Supercar history to take a dramatic win in the L&H 500 at Phillip Island.
After starting the race from tenth on the grid, the pair had a disastrous first pit stop that saw them go a lap down in the shuffle of stops and also struggled with a difficult mid-race setup that saw the #1 Toll HRT Commodore falling off the pace and dropping back to 14th.
However, a surprise rain storm lashed the Phillip Island circuit and had teams tearing up strategies, and a number of crucial Safety Car appearances and good calls brought Tander and Skaife back into contention.
When a Safety Car appeared on lap 67, Skaife was short of his minimum 38 laps and stayed out when others around pitted. Then the rain hit and the five-time champion survived two laps in the extreme wet on slicks before pitting on lap 73 for wet weather tyres and to hand over to Tander for the run to the flag.
With just over 20 laps remaining the #1 Toll HRT Commodore was second behind the leading Falcon of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes – with the Safety Car again appearing on lap 83 when Holden driver Andrew Jones rolled his Commodore and Tander pitted for slicks.
When the racing resumed, Tander was onto the tail of the Vodafone Falcon as lap 100 ticked over, and just two laps later Whincup locked the rears and went wide into the Honda Hairpin, with Tander taking the lead and holding station to the finish.
“I said at the start of the weekend that the team that thinks the best on its feet would win the race, and our team did a great job,” Tander said. “We were behind the eight ball strategy-wise until the rain came. All weekend our car was fast, then slow, then fast, but when we put the wets it was very good. Once we got that second Safety Car and went back on slicks it was fantastic, the best it's been all weekend.
“It's a great win and full credit must go to the Toll Holden Racing Team for doing a fantastic job. Jamie and I were both on the edge at the end. I knew I was in trouble and he just went a little wide and I was able to sneak through. Anything can happen in these races and you just don't give up until the very end. An opportunity presented itself and we were there to take it.”
Skaife was also delighted with the victory and paid tribute to his team-mate for successfully bringing the car to the finish.
“What a day of ups and downs!” he said. “We had a problem with the first stop when my belts popped open just as we were doing the last one up – we had to do them up again and that cost us time. The car just wasn't good mid-race and I did the best I could. Then the rain came and I've never driven in conditions like that on slicks, it was as bad as it ever gets. I just knew when there were cars off the track everywhere that if we could stay on the road and sneak in then we were in a good position as it was right on our limit.
“The timing isn't always perfect for those things, but today it was good for us. The win was Garth's as he drove very, very well to bring it home for the Toll Holden Racing Team.”