SUPERCARS DAY 1: A THRILLING MIDDLE EAST DEBUT Manama, 24th November 2006: The Desert 400 race weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit is already being hailed as one of the most thrilling and successful motor sport events in the region's ...
SUPERCARS DAY 1: A THRILLING MIDDLE EAST DEBUT
Manama, 24th November 2006: The Desert 400 race weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit is already being hailed as one of the most thrilling and successful motor sport events in the region's young motor racing history. A thrilling battle in today's first race for the Australian V8 Supercars saw Jason Bright win the 27-lap all-action sprint for the Ford Performance Racing team from Toll HSV Dealer Team Holden driver Garth Tander.
The Desert 400 weekend truly got underway with the first competitive running in today's official qualifying sessions. The drivers pushed to the absolute limit in their efforts to tame the BIC's 'Paddock' track, which uses the two main straights of the Grand Prix circuit and the sweeping turns of the return leg in order to provide maximum excitement and racing action for the fans at the trackside and watching on TV.
The two official qualifying sessions gave way to the Top 10 Shootout, in which Mark Skaife, the 39- year-old five-time Supercar champion of the works Holden Racing Team looked destined for pole with a blinding first sector, only to spin away 16 seconds in the middle of his lap. Just in front of him triple champion and this year's championship challenger Craig Lowndes also scrabbled for grip in front of teeming grandstands filled with both die-hard fans from Australia and newly-won converts to the sport from across the Gulf who were held spellbound by the action.
Pole position eventually fell to Garth Tander's Holden Commodore by a margin of under 0.07 seconds from Jason Bright's Ford. In all 15 cars were within one second of each other at the sharp end of the grid, with little more than two seconds covering the entire 31-car field. Tander claimed that the 'inspiration' to take pole came from his wife, whose shopping sprees since arriving in the Gulf meant that the AU$5,000 pole award would be much valued.
After an entertaining schedule of support race action the Supercars appeared on the grid under an ominously grey sky, with the wind whipping up beneath the heavy clouds as the field lined up for the first ever V8 Supercar race in the Middle East. At the start Garth Tander made a lightning getaway to take a commanding lead at the first corner with Bright ahead of James Courtney, who had leaped up the order as the field ran five and six abreast on the BIC's wide, smooth track surface.
Having funnelled through the hairpin of Turn One, the next challenge was the sharp right-hand Turn 3 that creates the Paddock Circuit, bringing the cars streaming through under full power past the crowded Oasis Complex grandstand. Here the bumping and bashing revealed that Craig Lowndes title hopes had taken another knock as he slipped to 10th place overall as the 31-strong field set about its business in muscular wheel-to-wheel 'dicing' and close quarters contact at speeds of up to 300km/h.
At the start of Lap 3 Will Davison's Ford, running at the head of the second major gaggle of cars, got broadside going into Turn 1, causing numerous biffs and bangs in his wake as drivers scrambled to avoid each other. On this occasion everyone made it through the bend, but with cars running three and four abreast throughout the field the potential for incident was ever-present, as an internecine scuffle between the two Fusitsu Fords of Warren Luff and Jose Fernandez at Turn 3 confirmed.
The accident, when it duly came, saw the uncle and nephew racers Brad and Andrew Jones as the losers. The Team BOC Ford Falcon of the elder Jones was tagged by Paul Morris's Team Sirromet Holden as they rounded Turn 4, leaving him stranded facing the wrong way on the circuit to be 'collected' by nephew Andrew in his Tasman Motorsport Holden. The wreckage and limping vehicles brought out the Safety Car, cutting Garth Tander's hard-won advantage as the field streamed round in a line behind the Hemi-powered Chrysler 300C, the racers weaving and giving great snorts of power to try and keep their cars up to temperature.
At the restart Tander's getaway was matched by that of the pursuing Jason Bright, while James Courtney was passed by both the Kelly brothers - Holden Racing Team driver Todd getting by at Turn 3 and championship-leader Rick's Toll HSV Dealer team car getting by at Turn 4. Meanwhile the doorhandle-to-doorhandle battles raged once again throughout the field, with Tander and Bright in a race of their own, the remainder of the Top 10 in their wake and intense pack fighting down the order led by a three-car three-wide battle for 11th place led variously by Will Davison, Greg Murphy and Mark Winterbottom.
On Lap 12 the leaders all made a dash into pit lane for their mandatory stops. Here the slick work of the Ford Performance Racing crew paid off, getting Jason Bright out just ahead of Garth Tander, who stalled his Holden, to take the lead. The Stone Brothers team also got James Courtney back out in front of the Kelly brothers, but after a cat-and-mouse game Todd Kelly got his works Holden up the inside of Courtney's Ford under braking for Turn 6.
A huge squabble over the final few places in the top 10 broke out between Jamie Whincup's Team Betta Electrical Ford, reigning champion Russell Ingall, Dean Canto's Repco Holden and Cameron McConville's Supercheap Holden in which the bumping and boring eventually got too much for Canto, who suffered body damage and went hurtling back down the order - his race eventually being all-but finished by a drive-through penalty on lap 24 to leave him in 24th place at the flag.
In the title race Craig Lowndes' chances grew slender, despite a classy move on the Holden of Paul Dumbrell, after which he disposed of team mate Jamie Whincup to finish ninth. Rick Kelly's fourth- place finish however increases the margin at a time when Lowndes needs every point.
Meanwhile at the front Tander, his headlights ablaze, tore great lumps out of Jason Bright's lead and throughout the last ten laps the two cars were seldom more than a car's length apart. The sun broke through the overcast, illuminating the scene in a golden Arabian sunset as the two cars dodged and feinted, the flames blossoming from their exhausts in unison at every corner, but despite everything that he threw at the leader, Garth Tander's chase was in vain and Jason Bright claimed the race victory after 27 historic, action-packed laps in Bahrain.
Tomorrow sees two more V8 Supercar races of 37 laps each alongside a host of other entertainment both on and off the track including racing action from the Lumina CSV Championship Middle East, the Marangoni Mazda RX-8 Cup, Bartercard Gulf Radical Championship, Formula BMW and Thunder Arabia support races and endless family entertainments in the public areas. The Desert 400 race weekend is already proven to be an unmissable sporting, social and community occasion for the Kingdom of Bahrain - and all agree that the best is yet to come.
Jason Bright, Ford Performance Racing, Race Winner: The pit stop was really good, but I thought we had lost a bit of ground there when I heard someone say 'stop' but I kept going-- then I heard 'go'! I thought that had cost us ground and I was expecting to see Garth pass me coming out of the pits but apparently not--
Garth Tander, Toll HSV Dealer Team, 2nd: I stalled the car out of pit stop so I'll get into loads of trouble back at the garage! It gave Jason the lead which was annoying as I had the better car. I managed to close the gap but the conditions were no good to try anything, both our cars were skidding all over the place it would have been a suicide move. I pushed as far as I could and bided my time for him to make a mistake but hey - I'm pleased with what I did.
Todd Kelly, Holden Racing Team, 3rd: It was cool. I felt no pressure at all and eased into the race. The last few laps I treated like a practice round improving my stuff for tomorrow. I even got to have a bit of fun with James Courtney.