Punctures, penalties and plenty of drama – the Supercars at Phillip Island had it all, and then some.
Tyres, tyres and tyres. Yes, we know they’re round, black and made of rubber, but they were also all anyone could talk about after a chaotic weekend of Supercars racing at Phillip Island, one where seemingly every driver in the field suffered a puncture at one time or another, and one where simply being on four working tyres and managing your pace was way more important than out and out speed.
For reigning series champion Shane van Gisbergen, who came to the Victorian coastal circuit with a 20-point championship lead after the crazy crash-filled round at Symmons Plains a fortnight previously, leaving Melbourne Airport with just a seven-point championship deficit to new leader Fabian Coulthard had to be considered somewhat of a save. SVG finished fourth in Saturday’s 250km race after being penalised 15 seconds for crossing into the slow lane at the entry to the pits. Compared to what was to happen to him 24 hours later (and we’ll get to that), Saturday wasn’t as painful, but it didn’t stop the Kiwi from teeing off after the race, which was won by Coulthard.
“In all honesty, it’s crap. The penalties being handed out were ridiculous,” SVG said, after a race where he and seven other drivers were penalised for either cutting the entry of pit lane or the working lane prior to peeling into their pit bays.
“Crossing the line at pit entry is something that happens at every track, and the process is different on every track, yet now they decide to police it in a way they have never done here before. It’s pretty average if you ask me.”
The next-day drama we mentioned? SVG, along with Triple Eight stablematesJamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, all suffered punctures in Sunday’s second 250km race of the weekend, a right-rear Dunlop failure for SVG seeing him limp back to the pits when running inside the top 10, recovering to finish 16th in a race won by Chaz Mostert.
The only saving grace was that Coulthard’s championship lead didn’t balloon after he was penalised for ignoring a red light at the pit lane exit following a pit stop, which saw SVG’s compatriot even worse off in 17th position.
“The race was all about tyres, it was looking really good until we had a blowout,” SVG said afterwards.
“I am not too sure on what happened. Our car felt great, and we were really safe on the tyre yesterday, but today for whatever reason was different. It’s a shame, we dropped a long way back.”
Whincup also had a right-rear failure on Sunday, coming home 18th after a strong showing on Saturday, when he finished second to Coulthard. J-Dub left the Island in fourth place overall in the championship, a 46-point deficit to Coulthard five points closer but one place back from the series lead than he was before the weekend. After Saturday’s result, Whincup and RBHRT promised to be more aggressive after adopting a conservative approach to the first race, but Sunday didn’t work out on a day he called “really tough”.
“We pushed the limits, we tried to get more pace out of the car … we got more pace but blew the rear tyres,” Whincup said.
“After that, it didn’t get much better. We lost pace in the last stint, for some reason our strategy wasn’t working either. We all need to go back to the workshop and work harder across all areas – we’ve got a bit to do in the pace department for sure.”
For Lowndes, the weekend was equally dramatic, starting on Friday when (you guessed it) a tyre failure on the entry to Lukey Heights sent him careering off the track and into the fence in practice. Lowndesy’s crew did a herculean 13-hour repair job to get his car back out for Saturday, and while he crossed the finish line first on Saturday afternoon, he was one of the drivers pinged with a penalty for crossing into the slow lane at pit entry, which saw him fall to 12th in the final results.
Sunday looked set to produce a strong haul of points for Lowndes, the veteran in fourth place with six laps to go, but a right-front puncture and subsequent pit stop saw him in 23rd when the chequered flag fell, seeing him drop to ninth in the championship standings, 190 points adrift of Coulthard. “What a weekend,” was his succinct summation afterwards. Given everything that went on, Lowndesy was on the money.
After Sunday’s race, Triple Eight team manager Mark Dutton told speedcafe.com that the team had misjudged its car set-ups for Van Gisbergen, Whincup and Lowndes, describing the failures as “self-inflicted”.
“We needed to do a better job collectively, and I’ll put my hand up, to communicate with the drivers,” he said.
“With the high tyre pressures the car felt really bad out there, but the problem is they were still going fairly quick. Just before Jamie’s tyre blew he was, I think, the fastest car on track, and we didn’t have the fastest cars on pure performance, so therefore to go that pace he was pushing.
“We should have worked better than that.”
After the dust settled and the post-race post-mortems drifted long into the Phillip Island night, the series will divert its attention westwards to WA and the Perth Supersprint from May 5-7, where a 50-lap race on Saturday and an 83-lapper on Sunday await the drivers – and with any luck, less chat about you-know-what.