It’s taken seven long years but finally, Ricky Kelly can breathe a sigh of relief. Since arguably robbing Craig Lowndes of the 2006 V8 Supercars championship by unceremoniously taking him out at Phillip Island, Kelly has been the recipient of loathing from Lowndes fans and V8 fans alike – warranted or not.
But today emerged a new villain – same track, same stakes, same result. His name? Mark Winterbottom.
Leading the championship with two rounds to go for the first time since 1999, Lowndes looked certain to go into the 60/60 break as the race leader after jumping Winterbottom from the start and leading from there on. But Winterbottom, who trailed Lowndes by 88 points going into Race One at Phillip Island, had different plans.
Following a safety car restart on the final lap of the first stanza, Winterbottom was all over Lowndes’ Red Bull Commodore and tapped the VF from behind before criss-crossing the leader at turn 11 and forcing him into the gravel on the home straight. It resulted in steering damage to the No.888 Commodore and a 15th-placed start for Lowndes in the second Stanza. Winterbottom held on for a fifth.
“It’s disappointing. We had a strong car and I think we showed that in both legs of the race,” said Lowndes.
“It wasn’t the finish that we wanted in the first leg but we got back to eighth which was good. It was entertaining back there, a lot of things go on.
“We’re going to be fighting tomorrow. We had great pace, the car’s good and I’m looking forward to the longer race tomorrow.”
The biggest benefactor was in fact Red Bull team-mate Jamie Whincup, who started from an uncharacteristic 13th and found himself in sixth place for the start of the second half.
“Unfortunately we were on the defence after our qualifying position this morning which was a real hit,” Whincup said.
But by race’s end J-Dub had established himself as the new championship leader. Whincup dive-bombed that man Winterbottom on the final lap to rescue fourth from what shaped as a nightmare race, with Winterbottom finishing fifth and Lowndes stealing eighth on the finish line.
“I’m pretty proud of everyone, we dug deep and just maximised what we had and to come through and make spots up in both halves and finish just off the podium – we’ll take those points and run with them.”
Whincup now leads the championship from Lowndes by 14 points, with Winterbottom a further 74 points adrift.
Meanwhile, Will Davison’s championship tilt looks all but over after being one of many victims of a loose Shane Van Gisbergen to finish the race well adrift of his title counterparts. He was already trailing championship leader Lowndes by more than 120 points going into the race.
And while the championship stakes are higher than ever, the 60/60 format race will likely be remembered for one thing and one thing only – a massive, death-defying shunt involving James Courtney and Alex Premat.
On the same turn just past Honda where J-Dub was the unwitting victim of an out-of-control Will Davison in 2012, carnage again unfolded. But this one was next-level.
His wheels locked, Premat’s rear-end fired into the side of an unsuspecting Courtney at just under 200km/h and collected him directly in the driver-side door and consequently launched his Commodore into mid-air. The cars scattered into the tyre wall and Courtney had to be dragged from his passenger-side door by Premat. He limped into the waiting medical car and is unlikely to contest the rest of the weekend. Luckily, both he and Premat avoided any serious injuries.
But the excitement doesn’t end there, folks. In fact, we’re just getting started!
Tune in to Channel 7 and www.v8superview.com tomorrow for two more races, live from Phillip Island.