The Mountain chooses you, they say. Well, this year, Mount Panorama definitely didn’t choose the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. A fifth place for car 97 was the best RBHRT had to show for the 2017 edition of the Bathurst 1000 after a chaotic day.
The Great Race has an extended build-up befitting the biggest race on the Supercars calendar, and Thursday’s extra practice time was needed to get up to speed – although Shane van Gisbergen’s little mishap on top of the Mountain wasn’t part of the plan. Luckily the damage wasn’t as bad as the impact looked, and car 97 was back on track and ready for SVG to put it into his 31st consecutive Top 10 Shootout – he hasn’t missed one for five years! The first 2-minute 4-second Shootout lap was enough for he and co-driver Matt Campbell to start from P5 on Sunday.
Car 88 wasn’t quite so lucky. Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell were still chasing pace come Friday qualifying, and 11th was all they could muster. The third Triple Eight crew, Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards, would start even further back in 19th after an off at The Chase. No matter; grid positions don’t count for much on Lap 161, and the last three winners had all started from 15th or worse.
Three hard days of set-up work on a dry track were washed away with the rains arriving just in time for Sunday’s race start. All three cars had big moments as the increasing precipitation made the track treacherous. The co-drivers weren’t immune either, and car 97 copped the first blow of many when Campbell was tipped into a spin on his first lap out of the pits.
A few more moments during Campbell’s stints left the car a lap off the pace when van Gisbergen hopped back aboard. Cue a charge that, aided by Safety Cars and good strategy, vaulted car 97 into the lead as the final stints loomed.
It all went wrong on the Lap 144 restart. The car snapped sideways at Murray’s Corner, dropping SVG deep into the pack. He clawed his way back into the battle for second, but came unstuck making a move into The Chase, skating sideways through the sand and popping a tyre off the rim. He would regain fifth by the end, but that ever-elusive first Bathurst 1000 win was there for the taking.
“We had a pretty good opportunity to win today,” van Gisbergen said.
“We were pretty happy with our race car today, we did a good job the last few days to make it good.
“At various stages we were competitive, then when we weren’t we still fought back from it, but I just made too many mistakes at the end there, misjudging the conditions, being the pioneer at the end. We threw it away.”
By that point, car 97 was fighting a lone hand for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. An engine problem meant car 88 had to head to the garage while running inside the top 10 not long after Whincup hopped aboard for the run to the end.
“It’s crazy how things change,” Whincup said. “You battle for seven hours for something so simple to turn the day so quickly.
“One minute we’re fine, then ‘boom’ – next minute, I heard something break in the engine, then it went off-tune. That was day over, I just knew it straight away.”
Although there was no chance of a miraculous comeback to snag the top step of the podium, car 88 had already done enough laps to be classified a finisher – so long as it was running when the chequered flag waved.
As the chaos unfolded out on the track, Whincup waited for the final laps so he could cruise around to take the chequered flag and collect 90 valuable points that could potentially land him title number seven come November. He still sits in second place overall, 91 points off new series leader Fabian Coulthard with three events remaining. SVG is fifth, 289 points adrift.
Lowndes and Richards never quite had the speed to rush to the front, but they also fought back from a lap down to cross the line 11th. ‘Lowndesy’ is seventh in the championship, 697 points behind Coulthard, with Erebus’ David Reynolds slotting between the two T8 entries in the standings after winning his first Bathurst in partnership with Luke Youlden.
With another 365 days until the next crack at the Mount, it’s onwards and upwards to the Gold Coast 600 on October 21-22.
By Jordan Shepherd on redbull.com