Toll HRT completes enduro double
11 October 2009
Garth Tander survived mayhem at the end of six-plus hours of racing around the Mount Panorama circuit to return Holden to the top of the podium at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The victory, by a matter of seconds over Jason Richards, allowed Toll HRT to complete the V8 Supercar enduro double after Tander and co-driver Will Davison claimed an equally-dramatic victory in the recent L&H 500 at Phillip Island. Holden swept the top four places in the final reckoning, with out-going champions Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes the best of the Fords in fifth spot.
A series of safety cars in the closing stages saw the order change with strategy, but Tander was in front when Tony Ricciardello went off with four laps to run. When the rescue crew did its work with alacrity, the field was released for two final laps of combat, but Tander controlled the restart to perfection, quickly opening out a couple of seconds' advantage as the chasing pack scrapped over the minor podium positions.
The biggest losers were Kelly brothers Todd and Rick, who saw second spot disappear in a flurry of passing moves that they were unable to defend against with an ailing Jack Daniel's Commodore, eventually dropping to eighth. Provisional polesitter Jason Richards was the first to push past the black machine, escaping into second as Lee Holdsworth took advantage of the move to further demote the Kellys. Richards managed to close on Tander on the run to the flag, but the former champion claimed victory by seven-tenths of a second after 161 laps and more than six hours of racing.
Veteran Greg Murphy, sensing an emotional podium return for himself and the 'unretired' Mark Skaife also pounced, closing rapidly on Holdsworth as third became a real possibility. The pair went side-by-side into the Chase, but Holdsworth prevailed, the GRM/Valvoline car also surviving the final lap to deny Murphy by just 0.004secs at the line.
Behind them, history was made to wait as Whincup and Lowndes had to settle for fifth in a race that could have provided a fourth successive triumph before rain arrived over the Mountain and then clutch problems intervened just as the 888 team's strategy benefited from the safety car spree. Whincup was also lucky to escape sanction for turning Jason Bargwanna around while duelling for a potential podium in the final 30 minutes, with both cars losing out to Richards and Holdsworth as they recovered.
Bargwanna chased Whincup across the line, while Paul Morris and Tim Slade also took advantage of the Kellys' problems to claim seventh, giving Slade leading rookie honours for 2009. Behind the #7 machine, Greg Ritter and Andrew Thompson completed the top ten.
Tander declared the prestigious Peter Brock Trophy back in its' 'traditional home' after another epic V8 battle ended a Lowndes and Whincup's three-year winning streak, preventing a record fourth, by holding out two rampant Kiwis and a pair of genuinely fast Aussie battlers to take the crown.
It was Tander's second win on the mountain, and the first for Davison, who joined HRT at the start of the year and is closing the gap on series leader Whincup in the run to the Sydney Telstra 500 in December.
“It's a great honour for Will and I to bring it back to its' traditional home - Peter did a lot of driving in Holdens up here," Tander said of the trophy, "The weekend we were here after Peter passed away there was a lot of pressure on us and we didn't perform.”
Tander was ice-cool to the finish despite the enormous pressure, while Davison had the drive of his life when the mountain did what it can during a period of torrential rain that made conditions treacherous.
“We have come in this weekend with a pretty one-eyed attitude,” Davison said, “I've had a great feeling ever since I got here, but you've got to keep it under wraps. Today was one of those races that, every time you thought it was running smoothly and under control, something would get thrown at us. It was just win or bust. When it's your day, it's your day. Sometimes things turn out perfectly. This is something that will be with you forever.”
Lowndes battle came, went and came again throughout the race, while Whincup had a remote chance towards the end before a late incident.
“It was a very tough day,” Lowndes admitted, “The conditions were difficult to keep on top of and we had a couple of little things go wrong. The team did an unbelievable job with strategy, Jamie did a fantastic job in the final stint and, despite the problems we encountered, the car soldiered on all day.”
“It wasn't our day today,” Whincup echoed, “We had a few little hiccups and to win this race you have to have everything squeaky clean."
The hard luck story was that of Murphy and Skaife, who appeared to have the best chance of anyone before a safety car with 20 laps to go killed their near perfect strategy as they missed a crucial pit-stop by five seconds.
“I've never seen a race like that,” Murphy admitted, “We went from hero to zero to hero to zero. It was great fun and those on the podium deserve to be there. We gave it our all and just fell short, but it's the best fourth place I've ever had.”
Skaife thought likewise.
“It smashed us," he sighed, "We were under green to make the shortest fuel stop. Without another safety car we are hammered. It's a cruel game; I'll give you the tip.”
At the other end of the scale, another Kiwi, Richards, came within 0.7s of victory.
“Maybe next year we only need that 0.7,” the Kiwi said, “I was sitting back there in sixth at one point, but just kept running up the back of other cars. I couldn't do much. Then it all just happened. It was do-or-die - and I'm not going to sit here and finish sixth at Bathurst.”
The action started from the onset, as a heavy shower drenched the circuit just before the start with the field starting on wet tyres and a safety car called on lap one.
Tander and Davison took control from Lowndes early on, but the dramas had just begun. Lowndes copped a drive-through penalty for a pit-lane infringement, shuffling him back through into the second half of the pack. All the while, Murphy and Skaife pushed and pushed at the front, claiming second place on lap 43 as rain threatened again.
Steven Richards had a cracking start and put his FPR Falcon in great shape, but disaster would soon strike the pair as, on lap 50, a loose battery ignited the car. Luckily, Winterbottom was near pit entry and pulled in with the flames soaring from the rear. Quick work by rival crews from Dean Fiore and the HRT outfits helped the fire team douse the blaze and get Winterbottom out, but the damage was too great for them to continue.
“I saw a bit of smoke and tried to get it back to the pits but, when it's on fire, you don't muck around, you just stop," a slightly heated 'Frosty' commented, "I was 100 metres short from showing the [FPR] guys what was going on. I have never been in a fire before, so you sort of think 's**t, what am I meant to do now, get out or press the fire bomb?'. You don't know what to do. You try to get out. It's not a nice thing to have, for sure.
“It's pretty scary to think that it could go up [in flames]. Luckily, I had been practicing my pit-stops to get out quick. It's not good. We didn't expect to be going home at lap 50.”
The rain struck again right on the midway point of the race. Jim Beam Racing's James Courtney was the biggest victim, when a touch with Alex Davison spun him around near the top of the mountain. He was left stranded and shuffled to the back of the pack, with the #17 car eventually coming home 24th and last of the classified finishers after co-driver Steven Johnson suffered a left front corner failure in the closing stages.
When Courtney spun at Reid Park, Rick Kelly slowed to avoid the clash - only to be hit from behind by Jonathan Webb in the skirmish. As a result of the contact, the diffuser on the Jack Daniel's Commodore became detached, resulting in a black flag and the car being brought into the pits for the bodywork to be torn from the back of the car.
As well as the loss of the diffuser, further rear end damage resulted in a change in rear wing angle, making the #7 almost undrivable through high speed sections of the circuit due to chronic oversteer.
“The car was just too damaged at the end to hold on to second," Kelly sighed, "I did the best I can, and I don't think I could have done much more, so it's just disheartening because the team really deserved something from today. There was just nothing we could have done. While the Jack Daniel's Commodore was in one piece, it was the quickest car I've had here in a long time - one that was definitely capable of winning the race."