October 23, 2011 – by Cody Globig; Aussie V8 Supercar Guest Blogger - follow Cody @theSAABwriter
I figured that as soon as I got home from my long day at work I would be instantly jealous of everyone in Surfer’s Paradise on Queensland’s gorgeous Gold Coast. Sure enough, I was. Here I am, sitting in my pajamas in 40 degree, partly cloudy Cincinnati and watching the SPEED Channel telecast of the V8 Supercar Armor All Gold Coast 600. Yep, way jealous. Great weather for the second race day (the 600k race is run over two 300k heats on Saturday and Sunday), great cars as always, great racing, great international drivers, and being Surfer’s Paradise: some seriously hot men everywhere… Ugh…
The Gold Coast 600 is in its second year of being an international motorsports festival. Each team has its primary driver paired with some star co-driver from around the world. The Indy Cars were well represented, especially in the wake of the tragedy one week ago, by Helio, Gil deFerran, Sebastian Bourdais, among others. NASCAR had Boris Said (close enough…). There were touring car/GT/sportscar stars galore (Andy Priaulx, Gianni Morbidelli, Darren Turner, Dirk Muller, Emanuele Pirro, etc.). Formula One was also well represented with current Force India F1 driver Tonio Liuzzi, and former driver Mika Salo (and Pirro/Morbidelli if you’re an anorak like me). America’s favorite GT stars Joey Hand and Patrick Long were also there.
The weekend started tricky yet again (same as Bathurst a fortnight before) with rain hitting just five minutes into the first qualifying session. Jamie Whincup and his co-driver SeaBass Bourdais (who was by FAR the quickest co-driver throughout the weekend) set a blinding pole time before the rains came, and they repeated the feat on Sunday for the second race as well.
The first race was decently uneventful. Most of the international co-drivers aren’t exactly used to standing starts, let alone ones in cars weighing 1.5 tons, 600+ bhp, and on piddly 11” tires… It became very apparent very quickly when the start was botched by what looked like half the field (the cars were started by the guest drivers, then handed off to the series regulars after a stint or two). The main theme of the races all weekend was curb-hopping. The V8 Supercar officials have always been fairly strict at Surfer’s, and at the season-openning Clipsal 500 on the Adelaide street circuit, about cars putting four wheels over the curbing going through the many chicanes. Earlier this year at the Clipsal 500, officials came up with the bright idea of putting in timing loops in the middle of each chicane bend and placing transponders on the centerline of each car. If the timing loop gets tripped by a car’s transponder, it means the car had cut the curb far enough to give an unfair advantage. Drivers are allowed 5 free curb-hops, and if that number is exceeded then a drive-through penalty is handed out. What I didn’t expect to see at Adelaide was how many bloody drive-throughs there were! Every lap at least one car got a penalty, and the Gold Coast was no different! In fact, the timing loops were getting such a workout that they BROKE and V8 Supercars had to send officials to each chicane to watch the cars and report back who they deemed needed to be served a drive-through.
In any case, Bourdais took to the Vodafone Commodore like a duck to water and he and Whincup soared to an easy Race 1 win. Teammate Lowndes (who was leading the championship after Whincup’s electrical dramas at Bathurst) ran into his own issues in qualifying and the race. Some electrical issue cropped up in his Commodore this time and prevented a decent finish in Race 1. Overnight the 888 Racing crew changed the car’s entire wiring loom and got it to behave properly for the first time all weekend.
As I mentioned earlier, Whincup and Bourdais had the pole for Race 2 as well, and the second time around the start went a bit cleaner. P2 starting Ryan Briscoe in the #2 Toll HRT Commodore balked the start and bunched the field up, but that was about all – until halfway through the first lap…
Jan Magnussen in Russell Ingall’s Supercheap Auto Commodore punted the Bottle-O Racing Falcon of Christian Klein sending Klein spearing off into the barriers. The car was destroyed and the Safety Car was deployed.
Soon, the race went green and the rest of the race (save for a couple more Safety car periods) went off rather well. There were numerous epic battles throughout the field, one involving teammates Lowndes and Whincup after the first stint, others involving archnemesis teams Team Vodafone battling HRT.
By the time the race boiled down to the last 10 laps, the battle was on between Whincup and Mark Winterbottom’s Orrcon Steel Falcon. Frosty was clearly faster than the Commodore through the twisty bits, but, being a street circuit, just couldn’t get by until lap 94 when he outbraked Whincup and just eked past.
Winterbottom’s win came as his first of 2011 after being overshadowed by Ford compatriot Shane van Gisbergen of Stone Brothers’ racing (who claimed his first ever career Supercar win earlier this season). Co-driver Richard Lyons was absolutely thrilled to have the victory under his belt since he doesn’t have a full-time drive anywhere. “It’s great to help get other teams to notice you. I’d love to come here full-time! It’s such a great championship!”
It was also a fine day for the Kelly racing squad with three of their four cars in the top ten. It nearly ended badly for Todd Kelly, though, on lap 100 when he and Ingall had some serious contact, then getting into it with Jonathan Webb immediately after getting past Ingall.
The weekend came full circle with respect to our remembrance of Dan Wheldon. The weekend at Surfer’s commenced with a small memorial ceremony with all V8 Supercar officials, drivers, and crews involved, then culminating Bourdais was awarded the Dan Wheldon Memorial Trophy for being the highest scoring international co-driver after Race 2.
The championship fight is still white hot after Whincup’s 2nd and Lowndey’s finish well down the order in 20th place. The next race is the Falken Tasmania Challenge at Symmonds Plains Raceway in three week’s time.