It took eight races, but Holden is finally on the board in this year’s Supercars championship thanks to RBHRT’s flying Kiwi.
By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com
It had to be a mistake, surely? As the Supercars teams set up at Symmons Plains for the third round of the 2019 season last week, you were two scrolls down the page of the championship standings before you found Shane van Gisbergen’s name, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star mired down in 11th overall after an Australian Grand Prix meeting he diplomatically called a “horror weekend” (in public, anyway).
But thanks to a pair of podiums and a first win for the season in Tasmania, SVG is right back towards the sharp end – and gave the Holden runners in the category a ray of sunshine after the first seven races of the year had been little more than a Ford Mustang stampede.
Race 8 of the season on Sunday was held in the sketchy half-wet half-dry not-quite-sure weather that SVG revels in, so it was no great surprise that while everyone else kept half an eye to the skies, the combative Kiwi kept both of his forwards and focused on what was largely clear road ahead of him at Symmons Plains after taking pole and acing the start. He only relinquished the lead in the pit-stop phases of the race as he fought with Team Penske’s Fabian Coulthard, and after passing his compatriot at Turn 6 on lap 43 of 84, took an advantage he’d never relinquish, winning by a tick over five seconds at a tight layout where tenths of seconds feel like minutes.
“It’s good to get one back,” SVG said after stepping out of the car, quickly adding that it had been a “mega weekend to bounce back from our shocker last time”.
“Fabian kept getting me out of the pits … I took off at the start and he got right back to me and I thought I was in trouble, but he burnt his tyres up.
“Once our tyre life was good I knew I’d be OK, and the team did a fantastic job in the pits.
“We’ve made a huge step forward with our car.”
— Red Bull Holden (@redbullholden) April 7, 2019
Sunday was SVG’s fourth podium of 2019; the third came 24 hours earlier when he finished third behind Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, the defending champion taking his sixth win of the season, and Coulthard, van Gisbergen likening himself to a “burglar” when he pinched the final podium place from Mark Winterbottom (Irwin Racing) on the penultimate lap.
The agony of Albert Park well in his rear-view mirror, SVG left Symmons Plains in fourth place overall, still 166 points behind McLaughlin, but with a pep in his step ahead of the next round at Phillip Island next weekend.
“All weekend we were speedy, and the car was nice to drive,” he said.
“Hopefully as a team, we can keep stepping it up for Phillip Island. It will be interesting to see where we’re at for that event, but after this weekend we are definitely doing better than where we started.”
Someone else keen to get off one island to another one, but for entirely different reasons, will be SVG’s teammate Jamie Whincup, who set a new Symmons Plains lap record on Friday when he topped the second practice session, but saw his weekend take a nasty U-turn for the worse after that.
Things unravelled completely on Saturday for J-Dub, who spun in qualifying without setting a time, started 15th, clawed his way up to 12th on lap two and then had an incident with Chaz Mostert (Supercheap Auto Racing) at Turn 6 that left him in the gravel and soon crawling back into the pits, the subsequent lengthy stop to assess the damage leaving him two laps down on the shortest track on the calendar, which condemned him to a 25th-place finish.
“I was sure the front end was broken, but it wasn’t,” Whincup said of a day where he felt he “must have run over a black cat, or something.”
“I feel good, I’m ready to go, the car is good but it’s just not happening.”
Sunday started with a similar sinking feeling for the most successful driver in Symmons Plains history, but Whincup wasn’t to be denied this time. Starting in 13th after being surprisingly ousted in Q2, J-Dub methodically picked his way forwards, and came out on top of a stoush for fifth with Winterbottom that was finally settled in Whincup’s favour 25 laps from home. The seven-time series champ finished 16 seconds behind his victorious teammate to claw back some of the ground lost on Saturday.
After eight races, just six points (Whincup 610, Van Gisbergen 604) separate the RBHRT duo in the standings, and while his own weekend wasn’t one to remember, Whincup felt Holden’s maiden victory of the year could be the start of something bigger.
“The great news is Shane got the first Holden win for the season and that’s a fantastic result for the team,” he said.
“It was nice to crawl back from a bad qualifying position to finish the weekend in fifth place. We were vulnerable all weekend. Even if we absolutely maximised everything possible, it seemed as if we were there or thereabouts; as soon as we didn’t maximise one area, we were down in the pack and that made it hard for us to get back.”
There’s not much time for Jamie, Shane and the team (or their rivals) to reflect and rewind about Tassie; it’s straight back over Bass Strait and to Phillip Island for Races 9 and 10 of the season next weekend, where we’ll soon get a handle on how much progress has been made at Triple Eight since the pre-season Supercars test at the same track two months back.