2018 Winton SuperSprint Wrap Up
Winton Motor Raceway is always popular with fans and teams and invariably produces close racing and some surprise results and this year was no exception.
The sometimes wet and chilly weather conditions made it a tad uncomfortable in the camping areas and challenging for both drivers and their engineers over the three days.
Flying the flag for PAYCE and PAYNTER DIXON were Garth Tander and James Golding in the main events and Chris Pither, Richard Muscat and Macauley Jones in the special practice for endurance race co-drivers.
The practice rounds were as interesting as ever, and all teams now tend to treat the practices as they would qualifying and go hard, if only for bragging rights.
Winton also hosted an Additional Drivers practice session to give the co-drivers who will be participating in the endurance races later in the year a run in the current Supercars.
As was forecast, Friday’s action got underway in wet conditions and the Additional Drivers practice was testing for the three PAYCE and PAYNTER DIXON co-drivers who were having their first official run in the new ZB Commodores.
Quickest of the trio and on the pace early was Macauley Jones in the #8 Nick Percat Commodore, finishing the session with an impressive third fastest time.
Chris Pither was behind the wheel of the #33 Commodore and completed the session unscathed with a respectable 14th fastest, while Richard Muscat was pleased to be back in the series in the #34 Commodore and settling for 19th fastest.
The three co-drivers were aware of the pressure to bring the cars home in one piece for the later races and that would have tempered their enthusiasm somewhat.
To the credit of all the co-drivers it was a red flag-free session, although quite a few found and exceeded their limits and had off-track excursions, but no panels were bent. They will have their next opportunity for more track time in the cars at the Queensland Raceway round in late July.
With the wet conditions easing, the first practice session for the main drivers got underway, but neither of the GRM cars could match the front runners and Garth finished 18th and James 23rd. It was a similar situation in the second practice and the GRM team were understandably disappointed not to have found the sweet spot with their setups.
A small consolation was that they were only one second off the lead times and there is still more development work planned on the Commodores.
Saturday’s practice session was a better outcome for Garth, who finished just four-tenths of a second off the fastest time in 11th spot. James was still that one second away from the lead time that pushed him down the order to 25th.
The Saturday qualifying times showed just how competitive this series is with all cars again within a second of each other. Garth was six-tenths of a second off Scott McLaughlin’s fastest time, but back in 20th, and James was one-tenth of a second slower than Garth but two spots further back in 22nd.
Where Garth has shown strength this season is with race speed and his ability to work his way through the pack aided by good pit work. The team strategy centred on maximising this advantage and focused on conserving his tyres for a run to the flag in the later stages of the race.
As the 40 lap race got underway, Garth made the most of start and by the end of the first lap had made up six positions and his lap times were comparable to those of the leaders.
With one compulsory pit stop required, Garth was held out till lap 18 and James one lap later in order to get the most out of a run in clear air. The strategy worked for Garth and he emerged from pit lane in 10th spot and was able to improve with two more passing moves to come home in 8th place. James was not so lucky and he continued to be caught in heavy traffic and finished 20th – two spots up from his grid position.
Congratulations to Rick Kelly on securing a well-deserved win for his team following a bad start to the week with Nissan’s announcement that it will pull out of the series at the end of the year.
The Wilson Security Racing GRM team spent most of Saturday night in the pit garage analysing the day’s results and re-programming the cars for Sunday. Unfortunately, their hard work did not translate into positive results and the cars’ qualifying times did not improve as was hoped.
With the two GRM cars well down the grid for Sunday’s race, it would need a sterling effort to fight through the pack as well as make the right calls on the two compulsory pit stops.
Garth made a great start to pass four cars in the first lap before it was decided to pit him on lap 15 as by now he was getting held up. It was the right call and when he emerged from the pits he found himself in clear air. James was not able to make much impression on his position and continued to battle with the pack towards the rear.
With tyre life now critical to a good result by Garth, he was pitted on lap 30 and once back on the circuit was making ground and looking good for another top 10 finish.
That was until lap 49 when Courtney, whom Garth had been locked in a battle with, pushed the #33 car off the circuit and as a result Garth lost nine positions. It was little consolation that Courtney collected a 15 second penalty and Garth came home in 22nd. James had no luck all race-long and had to settle for 24th. Coulthard won from Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin.
This round clearly demonstrated that the teams with good strategy and least mistakes over the course of the weekend have the best chance of shining and conversely a mistake on cold tyres, for example, can be punishing as Scott McLaughlin discovered.
The season championship has now had eight different winners from the 14 races to date and there are still some well-credentialed drivers yet to step into the winners’ circle, so the remainder of the season promises to be interesting.
The next round is the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown on 15-17 June.
Garth 14th (no change)
James 26th (down 1 spot)
Wilson Security Racing GRM 9th (down one spot)
PAYNTER DIXON Touring Car Masters
It was great to see the field back in big numbers for Winton after many drivers elected to miss the recent Tasmanian round. Several new car and driver combinations meant 21 cars started the round which included all the front runners from the first two rounds.
Team PAYCE member, John Bowe was expected to continue his battle with rival, Steven Johnson, for supremacy and that how it was shaping up right from practice on Friday before JB’s Torana A9X succumbed to some gremlins in practice and again in race three.
Johnson took the honours in practice, which was run in rain-soaked conditions, but JB was just 12 one-hundreds of a second off his time in 3rd place even though he was hampered by a broken exhaust.
With the TCM program for each round now comprising four races, the field only gets the one practice and advances next to qualifying where Johnson in the Mustang was still able to pip JB. But as the first race is reverse grid that put the two favourites to the rear of the grid for the Dometic Trophy.
The Trophy race was a text book progress from the rear of the field to the front by John Bowe who stormed through the field picking off each car one-by-one to take the lead on the final lap. It was a great display of driving and while JB took advantage of every opportunity he was not over-aggressive and left plenty of racing room.
Race two saw Johnson and JB side-by-side on the grid but Johnson got the best of the rolling start and was never headed. JB stayed on his heels but was not able to make an impression and had to settle for second spot.
Race three looked to be a repeat of the previous race before JB’s #18 Torana threw a power steering hose and literally went up in a plume of smoke before JB was able to manage the fault as best he could and bring the Torana home in 7th place. Johnson took the chequered flag for his second win.
Race four should have been a triple victory for Johnson but for a miscalculation on a Safety Car re-start that saw him lock up in the first corner on cold tyres, handing the win to Adam Bressington. JB fought hard to gain position but had to settle for 4th place.
While John would have preferred not to have the problems across the weekend, he still took a podium win and amassed sufficient points to stay on top of the leaderboard after nine races.
The next round is at the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown on 15-17 June.
John Bowe 1st (no change)