James Courtney is hopeful of a Blue Oval resurgence in the V8 Supercar Championship Series after a long-awaited breakthrough, albeit it non-Championship, at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
Courtney and his Jim Beam Falcon gave Ford its first victory in seven races this year, after Jamie Whincup's early dominance in the Middle East and then Garth Tander's clean sweep in Adelaide. Courtney took advantage of what Tander, who finished second, described as gearbox issues, having initially led the race quite comfortably. SP Tools Racing's Shane van Gisbergen was third.
Courtney's effort was solid in what became tricky conditions in light rain and fading light following a spectacular start that showed none of the field were treating the race as a non-points affair, and withstood an incredibly daring move from Jack Daniel's Racing's Rick Kelly off the start line, with Kelly mounting the grass on the inside of the track before cutting too much off the first corner and being unable to turn in.
“It was pretty sketchy of the start and pretty dirty in there," Courtney said, "Rick came down the inside on the grass and it was getting a little too exciting, so I backed out. Then Rick ended up running into his brother and taking both of them out in front of us.”
Once the race settled down, the field found that Tander had slipped away during the commotion, only to make a mistake, going wide mid-race, and allow Courtney back onto his tail. It was not long before it happened again and Courtney made the pass.
“Garth's car looked quite loose in the rear, so I just bided my time and benefited from his car not being too great at the end," the Ford man recounted, "It's a good win to carry that momentum from Clipsal, through here and then onto Hamilton. We are pretty out-numbered by Holden and they've pretty much taken everything so far this year. It only takes one to win, but we are all pretty high up in the championship.”
Tander was not too fussed by the drama as much as he would have liked to have gone on with the job.
“The car was good at the start but then had a bit of a gearbox problem, I went wide a few times and James managed to get through on one of them,” he said.
van Gisbergen managed to jump two positions on the first lap and raced under immense pressure for the remaining laps, holding off Craig Lowndes to finish third.
“It was a pretty exciting race," he admitted, "At the start, I jumped the Kelly boys and, towards the end of the race, I was right on Tander. The car felt good and I managed to keep Lowndes out for the whole 13 laps. It's nice to see a Ford win this one for a change, hopefully it can be an SBR Ford tomorrow!
Despite the skirmish at the start, Todd Kelly recovered to run a steady race aboard the #7 Jack Daniel's Racing Holden, fighting with Lowndes, Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell in the second pack on-track, before passing Dumbrell in the late stages to claim sixth.
“It was on for young and old at the first corner there and I lost a few spots out of it,” Kelly said, “We probably didn't have the pace of the guys at the front in race conditions, so where we ended up was probably what our pace was. I also speared off and let Dumbrell and Lowndes past, although I got Dumbrell back. There's a couple of things that stood out straight away in the race that we can probably do to the car overnight to make it a fair bit better and let it look after it's tyres a little better. So again, we learned a lot and at least we are trucking along in a good position while we are learning these things, which is promising."
The weekend continues with race two on Saturday evening and a third and final race before the F1 on Sunday afternoon.