For the second straight year, Shane van Gisbergen annexed Adelaide – two poles, two wins, and one Supercars series lead.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Turns out Neil Finn was wrong all along. ‘History Never Repeats’ sang the Split Enz star back in 1981; fast-forward 37 years to the Adelaide street circuit that heralds the start of a new Supercar season, Finn’s Kiwi compatriot Shane van Gisbergen was doing the double-double – four consecutive Adelaide race wins across two successive years from four straight poles. As starts to seasons go, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team gun couldn’t have done much more to kick off 2018.
“It’s been a pretty amazing couple of years, four wins in a row and four shootouts in a row,” Van Gisbergen said.
“I’m not sure what it is about this place, but I love driving it and we’ve had some pretty awesome races here.”
Of course, SVG has been in this position before – last year’s twin Adelaide success was followed by a win at Symmons Plains next time out before, frustratingly, not a lot for quite a lot of the season (to quote Finn: “I lost before, you know I can’t forget …”). Just two more wins (Winton, Pukekohe) came in the final 23 races of the year as Van Gisbergen faded to fourth overall, his title defence consigned to a supporting role to RBHRT teammate Jamie Whincup (more on him later) in the closing stages of the championship.
Saturday’s pole took a while to be confirmed – an investigation into him exceeding track limits at Turn 7 on his shootout lap eventually found there was no case to answer – and SVG looked to be home free after the second round of pit stops before a slew of safety cars compressed the field. No matter; SVG had James Courtney (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing) big in his mirrors for much of the final 10 laps, but was never seriously challenged as he took a win by 1.22 seconds, Scott McLaughlin (Shell V-Power Racing Team) rounding out the podium.
It was win number one in race number one for the brand-new ZB Commodore, and Van Gisbergen had the Triple Eight team on his mind after he sprayed the victory champagne.
“It was a pretty awesome debut for the new Commodore – the team had a huge undertaking to build not only our three cars, but the parts for other teams as well as helping the Tekno guys out,” he said.
“They had a huge operation over the Christmas period and did a fantastic job, it’s a credit to them. I had an average start, but I knew my car was really good. I pulled some clean laps while (the other guys) were all in the pits … I dropped into a nice area and caught up to the front guys, and we won through strategy in the end.”
If Saturday’s win was one earned by smarts, Sunday’s owed itself to speed and a smattering of luck – which came at the expense of his teammate. Whincup, who qualified next to SVG on the front row, took off like a scalded cat at the start, and was 10 seconds up the road after the first set of pit stops played out.
But when a transmission issue saw the No.1 car parked in the pits before the halfway mark, Van Gisbergen was there to sweep up the crumbs, repelling a spirited charge by David Reynolds (Erebus Penrite Racing) to win by eight-tenths of a second after 78 laps, Garth Tander (Wilson Security Racing GRM) making it an all-Commodore ZB podium on its first weekend.
Reynolds had the fresher tyres for the final stint, but after SVG had snuck down the inside at Turn 9 on lap 44, the Red Bull driver had what he needed in reserve to make it two from two. Again.
“I knew it was going to be close with Davey (Reynolds),” he said.
“Jamie had the car to beat today, and we went a bit far with our set-up and were no good compared to yesterday. It’s a real shame we couldn’t get the 1-2. I hate getting points gaps like that, but that’s part of racing and hopefully we can have a few more battles throughout the year.”
While one side of the RBHRT garage was smiling, the other was balancing disappointment, a bigger-picture view and undoubtedly some sleep deprivation, after Whincup’s championship defence started in fraught fashion and didn’t improve much from there.
On Friday, the seven-time champ clouted the notorious Turn 8 wall during qualifying, and it took all three T8 crews – Van Gisbergen’s mechanics joining Whincup’s along with those from Craig Lowndes’ Autobarn Lowndes Racing entry – until after 4am on Saturday morning to fix the damage.
J-Dub qualified fifth and finished sixth on Saturday in a car that was nearly but not quite there, Whincup commenting that “there was a lot of smoke coming in the car from the whole side being trashed yesterday” as he salvaged 102 points from a day that could have yielded none at all, and survived a spin courtesy of Reynolds to boot.
“It was a proud moment with the car being repaired and ready to go for practice three,” he said.
“Unfortunately five or 10 laps into the race we suffered some mechanical issues as result of the crash, which really just took the fight out of the battle for us. But all stuff we can fix overnight. All things considered, sixth, we’ll take that and run as a strong start to the year.”
Sixth was something Whincup could build on for Sunday, and he raced like a man on a mission on Sunday until his gearbox gremlins took hold. Remarkably, it was his first non-finish in 137 races, a streak dating back to 2013, and he left Adelaide in 18th place in the championship, nearly 200 points behind his teammate.
“A disappointing end to a bloody tough weekend,” was his succinct summation.
“A result of the crash was a cracked transaxle oil cooler that had been with us throughout the day and was slowly leaking oil, before running out completely and then we had no gearbox in the end. We were as good a chance as anyone to win today’s race … thankfully there’s still a long way to go. If it wasn’t for the gearbox we were looking good for a 1-2 finish in the race.”
It wasn’t only Van Gisbergen who had a familiar story in Adelaide; the third member of the Triple Eight trio, Lowndes, had a weekend that mirrored so many of his outings last year, where he’d qualify down the order but recover to score solid points in the races.
Fifteenth became ninth on Saturday, while Sunday was even better, 17th after qualifying being turned into seventh by the finish. He spent much of the final stint glued to the rear bumper of Courtney’s Commodore, but couldn’t make a move stick.
“I’ve got to admit, James did a great job and drove the car straight,” Lowndes said.
“He was really strong at (Turn) 8, which is what our Achilles’ Heel was. We just couldn’t hang onto him through 8 to attack him into (Turn) 9; we had great braking stability and we had a couple of close shots there, but he did a great job.
“We had strengths in the wrong places.”
A haul of 180 points across the two days sees Lowndes in seventh place overall before he, SVG and J-Dub head to Melbourne in three weeks to the Australian Grand Prix – and this time, the Albert Park races are for real, the Melbourne 400 seeing championship points awarded at the Formula One season-opener for the very first time. “I need a change and I can’t wait,” to quote Neil Finn. Neil, neither can we…