Todd Kelly drew first blood as the Australian V8 Supercar season opened with the first 250km segment of the Clipsal 500, the HRT Holden driver overcoming Ford front row rivals James Courtney and Jamie Whincup in Adelaide.
Kelly came from seventh on the grid to claim a first victory for Holden's new VE Commodore, edging polesitter Courtney by a couple of seconds after a typically frenetic race around the 3.2km street circuit. The win not only got Kelly and Holden's season off to a strong start, however, but also went some way to soothing HRT's turbulent build-up to the campaign, which saw the team threatened with the loss of its entrants licence with just days to go before the Clipsal kicked off.
Whincup got the jump at the start, Courtney bogging down as he attempted to convert his maiden pole into an early advantage and finding himself also passed by the fast-starting Garth Tander and Mark Winterbottom. However, when the leaders both missed their braking points at turn four with seven laps gone, 'Frosty' and the Jeld-Wen Falcon were promoted to the head of the field.
Courtney had made his way back to the front, passing Winterbottom on lap 21, before the pit-stops shuffled the field somewhat, allowing the Kelly brothers to make their way further up the order. Both SBR drivers claimed to have been delayed by Vodafone rivals during their second stop, possibly costing Courtney a shot at his first win. Rick Kelly, too, was denied the chance to join his brother on the podium as Whincup completed his recovery by passing the Toll HSV Commodore with two laps to run.
Remarkably, the race ran caution-free, meaning that Kelly's victory could not be attributed to lucky breaks with the safety car, but still produced a close affair, with Whincup eventually trailing Courtney's Jeld-Wen Falcon by another handful of seconds.Kelly Jr was just a further click adrift at the flag, while Winterbottom crossed the line just eleven seconds shy of the winner. Courtney, meanwhile, overcame the continuing high temperatures to set a new V8 lap record for the former F1 circuit, clocking 1min 22.8075secs on lap 32.
Reigning champion Kelly overcame the disappointment of missing the final session in the new-look qualifying format to haul his Toll HSV Commodore up from 15th on the grid, putting himself in good position to move further forward in Sunday's second leg, and the Toll team also put in the best 'combined' performance of the afternoon, with Tander claiming sixth, although the 'pre-season favourite' will be kicking himself for slipping up early on.
Greg Murphy, Russell Ingall, Steven Johnson and Jason Bright filled out the top ten, meaning that Kelly Jr's 2006 title rival Craig Lowndes had to settle for 13th, giving himself a mountain to climb in race two after being handed a drive-thru' penalty for contact with Max Wilson. The Team Vodafone favourite was not alone in missing the closely-contested top ten, however, as Steven Richards, Mark Skaife and rapid qualifier Jason Richards all joined Lowndes, the Tasman Motorsport Holden as low as 20th after braking problems.
There was also no change in luck for Will Davison, the DJR/Jim Beam racing Ford driver again notching a retirement, this time around half-distance as muscle spasms got the better of him in the stifling conditions. Murphy also suffered for his sport, but withstood shoulder pains brought on by a recalcitrant gearbox to claim points for seventh.
Davison was joined on the sidelines by newcomer Fabien Coulthard - who lasted just six tours in his VZ-spec Sirromet Wines Commodore before the engine died - John Bowe, Sirromet team leader Paul Morris, Paul Dumbrell and Brad Jones.
Moving the right way up the order after lowly qualifying performances, however, Steve Owen will start the Autobarn Holden from 16th on Sunday, after narrowly missing out the final point to Jason Bargwanna, while Adam Macrow and Jack Perkins both join him in the top 20 after solid runs in leg one. Rookie Shane Price and Britek new boy Alan Gurr claimed 22nd and 23rd.