Bathurst 1000: Vodafone duo dial up hat-trick
12 October 2008
Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup became the first combination in 24 years to score a hat-trick of wins at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 when they completed a third straight win at Mount Panorama for TeamVodafone.
Despite starting from the third row of the grid after being bumped back in Saturday's Top Ten Shoot-out, the duo dominated, leading for most of the day and holding control throughout several safety car periods that punctuated the last 20 laps. Only two other combinations have ever won three times on the trot at Mount Panorama, and the Lowndes' mentor, the late Peter Brock, featured in both - with Jim Richards between 1978-80 and with Larry Perkins between 1982-84.
“It's great to get your name on this [Peter Brock] trophy once, but three times is just awesome,” Lowndes said, “It's been a really clean weekend for us, and three years in a row.... I can't believe it. It's amazing.”
Whincup was complimentary of his team-mate, who held off all challengers in the final stint to become a four-time race winner
“We had a great strategy and this bloke standing beside me absolutely nailed the last sector every time,” Whincup said, “To win in 2006 was an amazing day. Last year was even more special, but to win the biggest race three times in a row is pretty special.”
Whincup also said that the team had had a superb strategy with pit-stops and fuel, and had managed to avoid the tyre degradation that affected a number of teams, while the victory went some way to making up for his disappointment at Phillip Island, when he blamed himself for a driving error that may have cost the #888 Ford victory in the first of the season's two endurance races.
“To throw it away with ten laps to go was disappointing, but this over-weighs all that," he smiled, "It goes to show you need to keep fighting to the end.”
Lowndes and Whincup finished two-and-a-half second clear of a reborn Sprint Gas Racing pairing of Jason Richards and Greg Murphy, the latter continuing his love affair with Mount Panorama after four wins of his own, while James Courtney starred in the final few laps to take advantage of the tiring tyres under Steven Richards' Ford Performance Racing Falcon to grab the last spot on the podium for himself and Jeld-Wen Ford team-mate Davis Besnard.
There was drama at the start when polesitter Garth Tander jumped the lights and then stalled, thankfully being avoided by the rest of the grid before being slapped with a stop-go penalty that pushed the Toll Holden Racing Team to the rear of the field.
From there, however, Tander and veteran team-mate Mark Skaife worked their way back into the top ten before a series of offs - most coming as the result of Skaife finding the wall and badly damaging the frontal aerodynamics of the #1 Commodore - saw the car drop back to twelfth and, in turn, hand Tander's championship lead back to Whincup.
Victory in the biggest race of the season, coupled with Richards' late problems that dented mark Winterbottom's points haul, sees Whincup leads the series by 33 points over the FPR man, with Tander a further 49 points in arrears in third.
The race was not kind to the Toll HRT team, as Craig Baird and Glen Seton were denied a top five finish after climbing into contention by the final third of the race. Baird was hanging in with the leading pack through the various safety car periods before being forced into the turn two tyre wall after Warren Luff took too much kerb and clipped the back of the Holden.
The result could have been different had an opening lap clash between row three starters Lowndes and Murphy been more serious. While the Vodafone machine appeared to have got away unscathed, Murphy was far from happy with the incident, which led to a tyre problem and an unplanned early pit-stop.
“To be honest, I was a bit pissed about the start of the race," the Kiwi fumed, "I've seen the vision of it and was not over-stoked about it. It damaged the front of the car and we ran with a bent steering arm for 161 laps. That's what caused the off and forced us to come in early. The car was definitely fast, and it was an amazing race, full of drama. To get up to second after that start is unbelievable.”
Lowndes said that he and Murphy had discussed the incident and then got on with racing.
“I got a great tow and one thing you don't want to do is to make contact and jeopardise your race,” the eventual winner insisted.
Having started from third on the grid after a 'balls out' Shoot-out effort from Courtney, the Stone Brothers-run Jeld-Wen Ford went on another charge towards the end of the race, picking off cars struggling with their tyres before catching up the Richards/Winterbottom Falcon with just a handful of laps to go.
Richards had earlier had to contend with a badly sliding car while Murphy hounded him, eventually having to give best to the Kiwi. Just when he might have thought a podium was still possible, however, 'Richo' found Courtney all over him, and ultimately ceded third after racing prominently throughout.
Brad Jones and Max Wilson produced perhaps the performance of the race to keep the WOW Racing Holden in the leading group throughout the 161 laps. Having got a chance to take part in the Shoot-out following Paul Radisich's accident in practice, the veteran duo turned a row five start into a fine fifth at the finish.
Sixth place went to Will Davison and Steven Johnson, despite the pair's Jim Beam Racing Ford suffering more than most with delaminating tyres. Three damaged left rears scuppered the chance of a second consecutive podium for the team, which also had to contend with Johnson having suffered an overnight stomach bug.
"To be able to salvage sixth place on what was quite a disastrous day is a credit to the team," Davison admitted, "We passed a hell of a lot of cars today to finish where we did. Our car got better and better as the race went on, but we just had no luck with the tyres. I don't know what it was, but it definitely had a huge effect on our overall result."
The second FPR entry, crewed by V8 irregulars Dean Canto and Luke Youlden took a solid seventh place finish, with another unheralded pairing - Jack Perkins and Nathan Pretty - crossing the line in eighth. Veteran Jason Bright, running with development series stat Adam Macrow, finished ninth, while the Glenfords Racing Ford of Fabian Coulthard and Alex Davison rounded out the top ten.
While the result continued Davison's impressive record at Mount Panorama, it was a case of what might have been, with fuel pick-up problems costing the team a probable top five finish. The Glenfords duo ran impressively throughout the race, but Davison had to pit from third place on lap 125, just outside the window to complete the race on one more tank of fuel. Coulthard pitted during the following safety car period to take on more fuel, relinquishing track position as various pit strategies played out, but had recovered to sit seventh in the dying laps, before being forced to pit at the start of the final lap for another top-up.
"It's not the result we deserved, unfortunately," Davison sighed, "We had a problem with the fuel pick-up system, which wasn't picking up the last couple of laps in the tank. My first stint ended early when we got a puncture, so that and, having to pit a couple of laps early each time, took us out of the window to do the race on five stops. We were having some problems with the reserve tank as well, so Fabian had to pit twice during his stint at the end. The car was good and we had strong pace, we were up there and on for a legitimate top five."
Joining the Toll HRT cars in failing to achieve perhaps as much as they should have were the HSV Dealer Team-run Autobarn Holden of Paul Dumbrell and Rick Kelly - which succumbed to an early throttle problem thought to be simialr to that which pitched Kelly's original co-driver Radisich into the wall on Saturday - the second Stone Brothers Ford and the Team BOC Holden, both of which were out before the 100-lap mark.
BTCC visitors Fabrizio Giovanardi and Matt Neal also struggled, the Italian finishing 15th in the second Triple Eight/Vodafone Ford with Britain's Marc Hynes, while Neal and US all-rounder Boris Said dropped out 21 laps from home in the second Supercheap Autos entry. The team's lead car only managed 18th place after a troubled run in the hands of veterans Russell Ingall and Paul Morris.