SYDNEY, New South Wales, Australia — Report by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac photo –
Shane van Gisbergen survived the rain for the third time this season to win Sunday’s season finale at the Sydney NRMA 500, and Jamie Whincup officially took home his record-breaking sixth V8 Supercars Championship title.
Van Gisbergen took advantage of a slip-up in the rain by Garth Tander to take the lead moments before a downpour forced race officials to bring out the Safety Car that would ultimately signal the end of the race. The rain failed to let up, and the event was abandoned and called official after 45 of 74 laps.
Holden Racing Team took the other two spots on the podium, as Tander recovered from his slip-up to finish second and James Courtney brought home his No. 22 Holden Commodore in third place.
“It was an aquaplaning race out there,” a jubilant van Gisbergen expressed during the victory lane celebrations. “Garth was pretty brave staying out as long as he did on the slicks. Thanks [to him] for throwing it away at the end there; [he] didn’t need to!” the Kiwi quipped.
With his ninth career victory and fifth of 2014, van Gisbergen jumped Mark Winterbottom to finish the season second in the points standings by 15 markers. Winterbottom made contact with Courtney on the opening corner of the race and slid into the runoff area, falling to 21st before ultimately finishing 19th.
“It was a big weekend in the points for us- we went from 4th to second. I’m pretty excited to be second — all weekend we were just pushing as hard as we could. In the wet, you gotta get to the front as quick as you can.”
As thrilling as the result was for Team Tekno and van Gisbergen, it was equally disappointing for HRT and Tander.
“[I’m] starting to get a little sick of losing the Sunday race by 100 meters, but it was my mistake in the wet,” Tander admitted after coming up with a gut-wrenching runner-up. “Shane was quick in the wet and the dry. Our car was really really nice. I’m looking forward to next year, we’ve been pretty strong the second half of this year. We had new engineering combination on my car this year and certainly in the second half it was really working well. I was really enjoying driving the car- I could drive the car how I want to and not have the car be [fighting] me.”
Whincup, who finished fourth, agreed with the stewards’ decision to call the race due to the rain.
“You have to remember we don’t have a wet tire — we call it a wet tire, but it’s (really) an intermediate tire,” Whincup said. “It’s a grooved slick. Once we get too much standing water, it’s all over for us. At the end of the day, it’s not racing if you’re going out there and tearing cars up.”
At the drop of the green flag, Scott McLaughlin surrendered his pole position as a lackluster launch off the grid allowed Tander to take the lead, while Winterbottom’s skid behind him shuffled several positions mid-pack. Meanwhile, van Gisbergen pressured McLaughlin throughout the opening lap and got the No. 97 to second on lap two. A lap later, he went around Garth Tander to take the race lead for the first time.
Shortly afterwards, drivers began to hit pit road for dry tires as the surface gained rubber. The first round of pit stops shuffled the running order at the front significantly, as the likes of Tander, Courtney, and Chaz Mostert all used pit strategy to jump the likes of Whincup, Rick Kelly, and McLaughlin. However, van Gisbergen survived the round of pit stops and held his position up at the front.
After the first round of pit stops, the race settled into a groove, and van Gisbergen headed the field for the duration of the run. There were few incidents during that run — the most notable being Michael Caruso retiring from race with water pump issues and Robert Dahlgren returning to the garage with right rear suspension issues.
At lap 31, the race began to pick up again. Winterbottom missed the apex of turn 8 while fighting for position and hit the wall with the right-front corner of his car, sustaining significant damage in the process. Six laps later, the rain clouds that had threatened the race began to roll in, and the field came to pit road to switch to wet tires.
Surprisingly, van Gisbergen was the first to come to pit road for wets — but it cost him at the end of the cycle, as Tander jumped the No. 97 V.I.P. Petfoods Holden Commodore for the race lead. By lap 41, however, the track fell under a monsoon of rain and the horrendous conditions caused Tander to aquaplane turn nine off into the runoff area and surrender the race lead back to van Gisbergen.
Almost immediately after, race director Tim Shenken called for the Safety Car, as the rain became too much for the drivers to handle. It was the 13th consecutive race at Homebush that included a Safety Car (every race run at Homebush). After 26 minutes of the torrential downpour, officials were forced to call the race, with conditions deteriorating too much to make any further racing possible.
The event was the second race of the weekend to be shortened by weather following yesterday’s second 125 km sprint, which was cut short by 14 laps due to a similar downpour.
The rain forced the podium celebration to be moved inside the main garage area, where the top three picked up their individual race trophies and Whincup was awarded the points championship. During his musings on a masterful season, Whincup cited his enjoyment for the sport as being at an all-time high.
“I haven’t loved my motorsport more than I’ve loved my motorsport this year. I’ve chilled out and relaxed a little bit. I’ve never loved my motor racing as much I have right now. It’s a fantastic sport and with the plans for the future it should be fun!”
The V8 Supercars return to action with their 2015 season kickoff at the streets of Adelaide from February 26- March 1.
For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/ — and keep it tuned to Race Chaser Online, where we will have additional post-season wrap-ups and championship news all the way through the winter leading up to February’s Super Test at Sydney Motorsport Park!