The best bit of the Phillip Island visit for Supercars this year for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team? When it was over … so the comeback can begin.
By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com
More pace, less pain. More fun, less frustration. More questions, time to find answers. They were the takeaways – at least in part – for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team after the fourth round of the Supercars season at Phillip Island last weekend, with neither Jamie Whincup nor Shane van Gisbergen able to break into the top five in either of the weekend’s two races, which turned into a two-day bonanza for Team Penske with a pair of 1-2 finishes.
Pre-season testing at the Island painted a cloudy picture at the most picturesque circuit on the calendar, and while expectations were muted ahead of the weekend for RBHRT at the most aerodynamic-dependent track in the series, the squad unpacked (after hastily packing following the round at Symmons Plains just a week ago) with plenty of optimism, thanks to SVG taking the team’s (and Holden’s) maiden win for the season on Sunday in Tassie. But, unfortunately for Triple Eight, normal service was resumed at the Island, which left plenty of furrowed brows in the good guys’ garage. And, it should be noted, plenty of fight and resolve to flip the script.
SVG was the better-performed RBHRT driver across the two days at PI, finishing sixth from ninth on the grid in Saturday’s 27-lap Race 9 of the season, and ending up seventh from the same starting spot in Race 10’s longer 45-lap journey on Sunday. The Kiwi retained the fourth place in the standings he came to the Island with after Tassie, but the gap to series leader Scott McLaughlin widened to 256 points after the 2018 series champion finished the two races in first and second places, Team Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard having the reverse of those two results as one team left the others well behind.
SVG was disappointed with his start in Saturday’s race – “other than the beginning part it was a good race,” he mused – but had the bigger picture in mind when he assessed Sunday’s seventh, where he finished just under 14 seconds adrift of Coulthard’s Mustang.
“That was a tough race and a tough weekend without a doubt,” he said.
“It is made even tougher when you set your own standards and expectations, especially after the great run last weekend we had in Tasmania. The whole team have worked hard trying a lot of things on the cars and there were certain times at which it got better, but obviously not to where we would like to be. At the end of the day we are a team, we will keep working hard and have some fun along the way, even if it doesn’t include winning.”
Come Sunday night, fun was a word on the tip of Whincup’s tongue too, which was possibly because he didn’t have a great deal of it at the Island. If SVG’s weekend was underwhelming and relatively straightforward, J-Dub’s was more of the former, and none of the latter.
Things went awry in his first pit stop on Saturday, when the No.88 was dropped back to earth without the front right wheel affixed properly; the wheel made an inevitable bid for freedom halfway around the next lap, and try as he might, Whincup couldn’t make it back to the pits, suffering his first DNF of the year after starting 17th, his lowest grid spot this season.
Tenth in qualifying on Sunday was something of an improvement, but he fell two places to finish 12th at the flag to drop to ninth in the championship standings, 379 points behind McLaughlin. With a little under one-third of the season in the books, Whincup was pleased to turn his back on “one of the toughest weekends that we’ve done.”
“Sometimes you are struck with bad luck and you don’t quite get the result you want, but what this weekend proved is that it’s all about pace,” he said.
“If you don’t have pace, then you aren’t having any fun out there, especially when you’ve had that pace. If you’re used to running mid-pack, then it’s not so bad. But when you’re used to running at the front and you don’t, unfortunately that fun factor is taken out of it for you.”
What happens next, J-Dub said, is the critical bit.
“There will be plenty of questions asked next week without a doubt, and we’re not going to hide behind them,” he said.
“We need to have an honest debrief when we get back to the workshop on Tuesday afternoon and nut out exactly why we are in this position. As the boss would say, assume nothing. And to our supporters, we guarantee that our results haven’t been through a lack of trying by the team, it’s been through possibly a lack of direction. We definitely want to get back on track and get back to being the Red Bull Holden Racing Team striving to be back out in the front again.”
The next chance to do just that comes in three weeks’ time in Perth, with Races 11 and 12 of the season taking place under lights at Barbagallo Raceway from May 2-4.