Jamie Whincup wins Sandown for the third time with Paul Dumbrell, while it was an all-Triple Eight podium as the Supercars endurance season started with a clean sweep.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Two-plus hours, an old-school fast circuit, co-drivers, safety cars, Melbourne’s spring weather – Sandown has as many potential trapdoors to trip up the front-runners in the Supercars game as the drivers do kilometres in the year’s first endurance round of the season. Which spells a recipe for a stressful race, right? Wrong.
From the moment Paul Dumbrell aced the start of Sunday’s race and built a steady lead over his first stint before handing over to reigning Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, this was a Red Bull Holden Racing Team exhibition, 500km of Sandown being conquered with barely a hitch as the duo wrapped up their third Sandown success together with a 6.8-second win.
Even better for RBHRT? Shane van Gisbergen, in partnership with compatriot and endurance racing gun Earl Bamber, came through from 11th on the grid to second, extending SVG’s championship lead to 55 points. Better again? Craig Lowndes, with Steven Richards, made it an all-Triple Eight podium, 1.4 seconds behind car 97. Boxes ticked, ticked and ticked.
“We had a really solid weekend,” Whincup said, as Triple Eight celebrated its 15th birthday in the series in the best possible style.
“I put it down to preparation – we prepared really well before the event, we brought three good cars here. I’m really proud of the engineering group, they just keep developing, keep moving forward and keep the speed in that car.
“I’ve never seen so much dedication behind the scenes and so much hard work from the team. There’s been so many parts going in the car to make them faster, to develop them and everyone has just been flat stick the past couple of months.”
Flat stick was one way of describing Dumbrell’s start when the lights went out on Sunday, ‘PD’ blasting past pole-sitter Luke Youlden (Erebus Racing) and not even needing to check his mirrors before braking for the first corner. Within two laps, he was a second clear, and 15 laps in, his margin was over 12 seconds.
A lap 23 safety car concertinaed the field, but by the time Dumbrell’s stint ended on lap 54 (which coincided with the race’s second safety car), his lead was back out to 19 seconds.
“The car was awesome,” Dumbrell said afterwards.
“We had great one-lap pace, there was no doubt about that, but the question was how long that was going to last.
“It was an awesome 50-odd laps that I did, the car was really good and we had a good strategy. Going out there first, I just didn’t want to make any mistakes – last year we were really quick but maybe a few mistakes crept in, so I was really happy with minimal mistakes today.”
With Dumbrell’s mandatory laps as co-driver done, Whincup picked up where his teammate left off, the car’s performance out of the slow-speed corners particularly noticeable as he was never headed, winning at a canter at the circuit that circles the Sandown horse racing course. By the end of 161 laps, J-Dub had lapped everyone up to 11th place. Was it a thrilling spectacle? Not particularly. But it was metronomically brilliant, and downright intimidating in its relentlessness.
Whincup’s fourth Sandown victory in all saw him move to within 338 points of series leader Van Gisbergen, who made the most of Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin’s run to fourth with Alex Premat to get a little more breathing space atop the standings.
Bamber started in the car from 11th and played the early laps sensibly before moving forward, and handed the car to SVG in a strong position when he finished his stint, the number 97 entry gaining two places in the pit stops to jump to fourth.
SVG was allowed to pass by a fading Lowndes on lap 123, and was content after the race to have added to his series lead, while watching Bamber get his Supercars feet wet.
“It’s hard to watch at the start, but I had full confidence in Earl and he really took it conservatively,” Van Gisbergen said.
“You could see he was driving the car nice, straight and conservative and then he started to pick them off once he felt comfortable. Earl was in a good position when he pitted and he did an awesome job. We short-fuelled to gain some spots but we also had to save some fuel while trying to pass people, so that was pretty tough. The cars were just awesome, we were on equal fuel to Craig and managed to pass him, he let us go easy.
“We’ve had good cars here in the past, but the gap to the rest of the field was really impressive, and as I said it’s a privilege to be one of the drivers.”
Bamber, who has an international CV heaving with achievements, was quick to thank long-time mate Van Gisbergen for making his Supercar debut easier, and successful.
“It’s a bit risky to bring a rookie in, especially into a car that is in the championship fight,” he admitted.
“It’s awesome to be with Shane, he helped me a lot, through coaching me the whole weekend. Without him I would be so lost.
“Before the race, Shane gave me a bit of advice to first find my feet and settle in, then just try to look after the tyre a bit because some of the other guys just really worked the tyre hard. Then after five or 10 laps, the car started to come to us and we could drive people off the turn, so I made up some good spots.
“I think I would have torched the tyres without Shane’s advice.”
Like most of the co-drivers in the field, Richards took control of Lowndes’ car at the start, and the veteran pair were in podium contention all day, Lowndes pushing Whincup harder than he was pushed all day through the middle stint of the race.
After a relatively quiet 11th place at Sandown 12 months ago, third was the perfect start to the duo’s endurance season, and sees Lowndes consolidate his fourth place in the overall standings, 567 points behind Van Gisbergen.
Next? That’d be Bathurst (October 7), Lowndes’ last 1000 as a full-time driver, Whincup’s latest opportunity to add to his four wins (but none since 2012), and (surely) SVG’s best chance to belatedly break his duck at the race that has eluded him in every which way so far. If Sandown form counts for anything, RBHRT are starting from a very strong base.