What’s the point? There were none on Sunday as rain stopped play on the Gold Coast streets, which was good news for J-Dub and SVG after a difficult weekend.
By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com
Jamie Whincup sounded like he was trying to convince himself, and feeling like he probably wasn’t doing a very good job of it. “It’s been pouring rain up here for days,” the long-time Gold Coast resident lamented on the Tuesday before last weekend’s Gold Coast 600 on the streets of Surfers Paradise. “So hopefully we can get a dry weekend …”.
As it turns out, J-Dub was half-right, at least; the rain stayed away for Saturday’s 102-lap blast around the seaside streets, more of which shortly. But when Sunday’s race gridded up under a leaden sky, Whincup – and the other drivers in the Supercars series that call the ‘Coast home – knew what was coming. In the end, so much of it came that Race 27 of the 2018 championship season became the race that never happened, according to the record books.
Teeming rain, thunderstorms, hail and a flooded circuit saw Sunday’s race suspended, re-started under the safety car and eventually abandoned on lap 43, the race failing to make the 51-lap half-race distance that would have allowed for championship points to be awarded. Everyone went home wet, frustrated and no better or worse off in the championship standings.
Whincup was quick to find a silver lining in the filthy black clouds overhead, and well he might after how his weekend at home shook out.
The reigning series champion’s title defence was looking shakier after Saturday when a second-place start on the grid with teammate Paul Dumbrell became a 14th-place finish, after car No.1 was penalised for an unsafe release at the first pit stops on lap 23. Dumbrell stalled at his stop, and when he got going again, was released into the path of the Tickford Racing entry of James Moffat, the cars making contact and the stewards issuing a drive-through penalty, dropping the Dumbrell/Whincup duo to the back of the field.
Sunday didn’t start a lot better when Whincup had his Top 10 Shootout lap cancelled for a kerb hop infringement, meaning Dumbrell would start the race from ninth place. Worse was to come when ‘PD’ hit the Turn 13 wall on lap 29 as the rain intensified. Contact from two other cars left Car 1 wedged in the tyre belt, unable to continue.
Searching for the right words after a testing weekend, Whincup was in a philosophical mood afterwards.
“All in all, it was a Gold Coast 600 we’d like to forget,” he said.
“We tried hard, we had a quick car, but we couldn’t piece it all together.
“It’s always a 50-50 decision whether to pit in rain like that, and we elected to stay out. Unfortunately, PD didn’t make it around on the very slippery resurfacing on one of the corners.
“I think the race organisers did a great job in making the tough call in suspending Sunday’s race – the silver lining of that was that we didn’t lose any points to our opposition so, if something good has come out of the weekend, it was that.”
Whincup made the short (and wet) drive home still in third place in the championship, and with a 433-point deficit to the leader … but the leader is no longer Red Bull Holden Racing Team teammate Shane van Gisbergen, after SVG and co-driver Earl Bamber had their own dramas on a weekend where few were immune.
Car 97 had its own pit-lane problems on Saturday, when Dumbrell stalled as Bamber was double-stacked behind him waiting to take service. Bamber was then given a drive-through penalty for impeding the Castrol Racing Nissan of Garry Jacobsen as he resumed, and all of a sudden, both RBHRT cars were at the back of the field with a mountain to climb at a circuit where passing chances are, at best, limited.
SVG was 19th by the time he got back into the car for Saturday’s final stint, and made a typically hard charge to get up to 10th by the chequered flag, commenting drily that “you learn who your friends are” as he “drove my arse off” for the final 38 laps.
Fifth place in race 26 for the Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat Team Penske entry saw McLaughlin reclaim the series lead by 14 points heading into Sunday’s Surfers finale.
Bamber started in SVG’s car on Sunday and ran strongly in the top three for much of his opening stint before the heavens opened, and by the time SVG got behind the wheel, his chances of hacking into McLaughlin’s advantage were washed away. With four races and 600 points remaining to be won, the title chase now looks to be one between the two Kiwis.
“I was looking forward to the race, Earl did well in his stint and then the rain came,” SVG said.
“It was a shame. It was a good idea to call the race, but it’d be good to be able to start the races earlier or not have the time-certain finishes, so we can still have a race. Smarter people than me make those decisions …”
In the wash-up, and there was plenty of that, there was some good news in the Triple Eight family, Craig Lowndes and Steven Richards winning the Pirtek Enduro Cup in their final campaign together before Lowndes’ retirement from full-time driving at the end of the season.
Third at Sandown and – of course – first at Bathurst preceded Saturday’s strong run to second from 21st on the grid on the Gold Coast, and Sunday’s cancellation ensured the veteran duo would hoist the only trophy given out on a bizarre afternoon.
“To cap off the five years we’ve been together with this win, it’s a real treat and a credit to everyone here in the team,” Lowndes said.
“They definitely made the right call with the weather, I couldn’t believe we were still circulating out there with the conditions as they were. I believe there was no way they could restart the race. It was really dangerous, they would have hurt someone and destroyed cars. The right choice was finally made.”
What’s next, besides checking the weather forecast for the next sunny day to put the ‘gold’ back into the ‘Gold Coast’? (that’d be Wednesday, in case you were wondering). A trip across to SVG’s backyard – McLaughlin’s too – to Pukekohe in New Zealand for races 28 and 29 of the 31-race season from November 2-4. The business end of the year is approaching fast …