Race 28 2023 Repco Supercars Championship - Vailo 500 For the second year succession, the…
Down to Business. – Photo’s Darin Mandy & John Morris
Jamie Whincup and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team placed their trust in the weather forecast and elected to run minimal laps during the largely wet practice sessions. David Reynolds was another to adopt a similar strategy in his Erebus Penrite Racing Commodore. The gamble ultimately paid off as the duo topped the time sheets at the end of qualifying. Whincup’s 2.04.1093 was 2.5 seconds faster than anyone was able to achieve in the previous 5 practice sessions with Reynolds barely a blink behind. After topping the timesheets at the end of day 1, just two Fords made it into the Top 10 Shootout.
Rain continued to interfere with team preparations for the all important qualifying session on Friday afternoon. The forecast for dry conditions later in the day must have seemed an eternity away as the co-drivers began P4, their second of two sessions reserved for the non championship regulars. A relatively rain free practice session produced a dry racing line, which teams attempted to exploit with a move to slick tyres. The move almost curtailed the weekend for one of the Tickford Racing cars.
The session had been run largely free of drama and main game drivers began to breathe a sigh of relief as the final minutes of P4 counted down. Macauley Jones had a wild ride across Skyline when the rear end of the BJR Repco Commodore stepped out and looked likely to find the gravel trap at speed. He somehow managed to regain control and keep the car on the circuit. Jack Perkins also had a high speed moment when he turned in late at the entry to the Chase and dropped the left front wheel into a small gap in the bitumen. He locked a front wheel on the number 25 Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing Commodore as he fought to regain control of the car.
Dean Canto was less successful when he also had a moment in the Bottle-O Racing Team Falcon. He had just recorded the second best time of the session and was on a cool down lap when things went horribly wrong on the entry to Forrest’s Elbow.
Canto ran wide and slipped off the dry racing line by barley a metre, though it was more than enough for the rear end of the Bottl-O Falcon to skip out and send Canto into the outside tyre wall. The car was fortunate to find the tyres, though the impact was still significant enough to lift the Cobra liveried Ford off the ground as it gyrated around.
“It was an interesting session, he was actually on a slow down lap,” Mark Winterbottom told Greg Murphy. “I’m not sure what happened, he got it wrong and ended in the fence. The car looked it was okay, it was tracking along and had reasonable pace, but now the guys have got to try and repair it and get us out for the next one. Not ideal, but it is what it is.”
Luke Youlden set the fastest time in P4 from Canto, Perkins, Warren Luff and Alexandre Premat. The Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodores sat on the edge of the top 10 and looked forward to a continued improvement in track conditions throughout the day.
The move to slick tyres saw times tumble as the session unfolded. Youlden’s 2.06.6471 was almost 20 seconds faster than Will Davison’s Thursday benchmark. Steven Richards recorded the slowest time of the 26 cars as the Triple 8 crew continued to source a steering issue that handicapped the car since P1.
Youlden’s continued to hold the benchmark time as the showers returned in time for the final practice before the afternoon qualifying session. Wet weather tyres became the order of the day as the track glistened with a light covering of water. Just 20 cars recorded a time during the session with Michael Caruso the best in a time of 2.26.207, 2 tenths faster than fellow Nissan driver Rick Kelly. Nick Kelly, Richie Stanaway and Chaz Mostert rounded out the top 5.
Mark Winterbottom recorded the 15th fastest time, 6 seconds behind Caruso. The time was quite remarkable given the fact that Dean Canto had crashed the Bottle-O Falcon little over 90 minutes earlier. Winterbottom had been focused on system checks in the hastily repaired car and made several visits to the pits as the team worked to correct a brake issue.
“We all sort of guessed yesterday that the weather would be done by now, so I just thought what have we got to lose?” Caruso half joked. “We’re here, we’ve got tyres, we’ve got petrol, lets go out there and go around just in case it is wet in qualifying. It was a good little hit out. We’ve had out fair share of dramas, we’ve already had an engine change, but it’s obviously running well now.”
The 40 minute qualifying session went green under overcast skies, though the track had finally dried out after a day and a half of patchy rainfalls. Jamie Whincup quickly set a benchmark of 2.07.2995, though it dropped by over a second in short time as Fabian Coulthard dropped into the 2.06 bracket and then David Reynolds recorded a 2.05.9919 to knock teammate Anton De Pasquale from the top spot. Scott McLaughlin lowered the time to a 2.05.3913 while Reynolds momentarily slipped off the track.
At the 10 minute mark Scott McLaughlin headed James Courtney, while David Reynolds began to slip down the order as Jamie Whincup. Fabian Coulthard, Rick Kelly usurped the Erebus Penrite driver’s best time. Shane van Gisbergen languished towards the rear of the field after an off at the Chase.
James Courtney’s second attempt at posting a competitive time lasted barely a 100 metres as the car ground to a halt in the pit lane. His Walkinshaw Andretti United crew ran down the lane to retrieve the stranded car after Courtney had simply overshot his pit bay.
Whincup became the first driver into the 2.04 bracket as the session passed the 20 minute mark. David Reynolds looked set to take pole only to lock up brake and run up the escape road at the final turn. Reynolds made amends with the second fastest time shortly after. McLaughlin lowered his best time only to see James Courtney and then Jamie Whincup take back the top position.
The final ten minutes were frenetic as the drivers pushed to ever increasing limits. At the 30 minute mark Whincup stood at he head of the time sheets from Courtney, McLaughlin, Reynolds, van Gisbergen, Mostert, Waters, Percat, Tander and Coulthard. Waters looked set to move into the top spot only to have his time nullified just metres from the control line, when the red flag came out after Jack LeBrocq crashed the Tekno Commodore at Hell corner.
The session resumed with nine minutes and less than five timed laps left to run. Scott McLaughlin looked to have grabbed pole position with a low 2.04, but it was a close following Jamie Whincup who snatched the provisional pole with a 2.04.1093. David Reynolds then fell a mere 0.1555 short of Whincup for second with McLaughlin bumped back to third. Shane van Gisbergen finished 4th as James Courtney dropped to 5th in the final seconds. Craig Lowndes overcame a troubled weekend to jump into 6th with Waters, Percat, de Pasquale and Tander who completed the top 10.
Chaz Mostert missed out on a top 10 place by 0.05 of a second with James Golding 12th after he had sat inside the ten with less than a minute left to run. Andre Heimgartner emerged as the fastest of the Nissans in 13th after the team had looked strong throughout the practice sessions, while Richie Stanaway’s predictions of a lack of dry running speed came to fruition with the 17th fastest time. Fellow Tickford Racing driver Mark Winterbottom brought his wounded car home in 19th, while Simona De Silvestro finished 26th after mechanical problems hindered her session. Jack Le Brocq dropped to 25th after his crash brought out the red flag and cost him his fastest lap.
“That was intense,” exclaimed Whincup. “I’ve done a lot of laps around this place, but never no dry practice before qualifying. New tyres and hang it on the edge. We improved the car, which is great, so I am glad we went out and got the most out of it in the last one, otherwise we would have been pipped. That’s by far the quickest I’ve ever been at this place in a Supercar, so I couldn’t be happier.
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