The reigning champ and an old favourite shared the spoils at Symmons Plains, but for Shane van Gisbergen, it wasn’t a Supercars weekend to savour.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
The more things change, the more they stay the same – in Supercars at the Tyrepower Tasmania SuperSprint last weekend at least. At an event that revealed Holden’s immediate future in the category and debuted a brand-new qualifying system, it was the past that came into sharper focus – and for two-thirds of the Triple Eight triumvirate, the journey back to the mainland from Launceston would have been an enjoyable one.
About that past; it had been a long time between wins for Craig Lowndes – 623 days since Race 17 of the 2016 season at Queensland Raceway, to be exact. But ‘Lowndesy’ wound back the clock all weekend at Symmons Plains, taking his first podium of the season with second on Saturday, and then going one better on Sunday, converting his first pole in 981 days into his 106th Supercars victory.
Sunday’s win was 24 hours in the making, as Lowndes made an electric start from fourth on the grid on Saturday only to be boxed in behind T8 mates Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen in the split seconds it takes to traverse the 150-metre run to the first corner at Symmons Plains. Come Sunday, after acing qualifying, there was no stopping him. First into the first corner, Lowndes controlled the race and fended off Shell V-Power Racing’s Scott McLaughlin (who was on a different fuel strategy) to take the flag first for the first time in, well, a long time.
“Relieved,” Lowndes exhaled, when asked immediately afterwards about his overwhelming emotion.
“Last year was up and down, and this year we wanted to be more consistent. We want to be on podiums, we said that from the start. This car suits me, and hopefully we’ve proved it this weekend. It’s been a long time coming.”
It was a win in more ways than one; well back in the championship pack after a tough time of it in four races at the Australian Grand Prix meeting in Melbourne, CL is now sixth in the overall standings, just 61 points off the series leader.
The identity of that series leader? Old teammate Whincup, who initially looked taken aback when he realised he’d taken over at the top of the tree after his sixth successive podium finish. J-Dub was back in 18th place in the standings after a horrendous time of it at the Adelaide 500, but since, he’s been rock-solid.
A win from second on the grid on Saturday preceded his run to third from the same starting spot 24 hours later, and all of a sudden, Whincup was leaving Symmons Plains with an 11-point series lead over McLaughlin and Erebus Penrite Racing’s David Reynolds in his pocket.
“I was miles back (after Adelaide), and now I’m not miles back anymore,” he surmised.
“There’s still a lot of water to run under the bridge, so we look forward to the next one. But today’s all about ‘Lowndesy’, what an effort.
“It was a tough job strategy-wise because there was rain coming over, so (race engineer David) Cauchi did an awesome job. Do we analyse and work out if we can go better? Yes, we do. We’ll look at what we did well and what we can improve on, and come back fighting stronger next time.”
An old favourite winning races, the reigning champion back at the helm of the standings … if the weekend had a familiar feel to it by the end, the future will too after Holden’s announcement that its V6 turbo engine project, in which Triple Eight had played an instrumental role in developing, had been parked for the time being, Holden choosing to “focus on what we have”, as the company’s marketing head Mark Harland put it.
“We really want to focus on what we’ve got now, we’re really happy with the performance of the new car, the ZB (Commodore), on the track, and it’s getting good reactions in showrooms as well,” Harland told supercars.com.
“We’re really happy and want to focus on what we’ve got today. That’s the most important thing.”
Holden may be happy with seven wins in the first eight races of the season, but Van Gisbergen wasn’t in much of a mood to smile in Tasmania after he entered the weekend holding a sizeable lead in the standings, but left it in fifth place overall, 40 points adrift of Whincup.
SVG qualified on pole on Saturday but finished in sixth after an early pit stop for tyres gave him pain with a strategy the team conceded afterwards was overly aggressive, but sixth on Saturday was a good result compared to what happened to the Kiwi in Sunday’s 84-lapper.
SVG started from second spot on Sunday, was right with Lowndes early on, and looked nailed-on for a podium finish. But throttle problems in his second stint under braking saw him struggling to stop the car, in particular at Symmons Plains’ signature Turn 4 hairpin, and he plummeted down the order. A lengthy second pit stop couldn’t correct the issue, and he finished a lapped 25th, the final car classified.
“I felt the problem early on and it just got worse and worse with the throttle and then the brake bias,” he said.
“It was like pressing the handbrake every time we pressed the brake pedal, and then also the throttle jamming, so it was a shame. I wanted to stay out to get points and keep going; it didn’t feel like it was dangerous and I slowed down so it was safe. It’s a shame to have a mechanical problem but in the three years racing here, I’ve never had one with this team. It’s been a pretty good run … it’s just one of those things.”
Next up? A trip south (or north, if you’re coming from Tassie) to Phillip Island for two races across the April 20-22 weekend. Keen to predict how the Triple Eight three will fare? After Symmons Plains, you’re braver than us …