FAILURE OF 2003 HAUNTS RICHARDS AS KIWI LOOKS TO MAKE AMENDS IN SANDOWN ENDURANCE CLASSIC
Kiwi driver Jason Richards has done everything but win the Sandown 500 V8 Supercar endurance classic over the past three years.
The 30 year old, who recently had his contract with Tasman Motorsport extended through to the end of the 2008 season, has experienced both and the highs and the lows of the traditional warm up race for Bathurst.
In 2003 he hunted down Mark Skaife in wet conditions for the lead and made an attempt to pass in the dying stages that ended in the sand trap. A year later he finished in the top 10 and last year he gave Tasman Motorsport its first ever podium finish by coming home third in tricky conditions.
But the 2003 Sandown event, where he was driving a Commodore for Team Dynamik, remains the closest he has come bar Bathurst last year to winning a V8 Supercar race and it still sticks in his mind as the `one that got away'.
"It was such a cracking race I can't imagine how good it was for the viewers," Richards recalls.
"I actually watched the video of the race in its entirety not all that long ago and it had everything. It had such a David versus Goliath finish with Skaife and the might of the factory Holden team being challenged by the new upstart Dynamik car that was only in its first season.
"It took that slight touch with Skaife to discover a weakness in our front suspension tie rods, something we fixed immediately for Bathurst. But by then it was too late to win Sandown!
"I don't regret the move I made up the inside. If I had the opportunity again I would take it. But it does haunt me because I did have the faster car and there was only a lap and a bit to go."
Richards will team this weekend with Andrew Jones in the #3 Firepower backed Tasman Commodore, after the duo completed a pre Sandown test at Winton on Monday.
Meanwhile, namesake Steven Richards will have birthday boy Paul Dumbrell alongside in the #7 Jack Daniel's Racing Commodore.
Dumbrell, who will turn 24 on Friday, is teaming with Richards for the endurance events for the second straight year and has a new outlook on the races, given he is also in the top 10 in the championship and has his own point score to protect.
"It's a different position to what I've been in before but I'm approaching it the same way as previous years in that it's imperative to finish and you can't afford not to finish at all," Dumbrell said.
"We've had a few ordinary rounds in the last few outings. Most of the guys in the top 10 are pairing together for Sandown so that gives us a chance to make up some points on them if they have dramas. "It's very hard to make your race plans around the event not running the full 161 laps and running to time, which has happened more times than not in the recent past.
"You have it in the back of your mind but you also have to plan for what's on the schedule and that is 161 laps. You run a risky strategy if you plan any different. If you pull it off, you're a hero, but if it doesn't work out you ruin your championship." th Richards is sixth in the championship entering Sandown with Dumbrell in 10 spot.
A team not in championship calculation is Supercheap Auto Racing and drivers Greg Murphy and Cameron McConville.
While both aren't in the point fight, the duo knows that the characteristics of endurance racing reward consistency and smarts and their #51 Commodore could spring a surprise after a nightmare 2006.
"We can't go making bold predictions but we're quietly confident we've got a better package than what we've had of late," said McConville on Monday after shaking down the Commodore they'll use, which has been rebuilt after it was involved in an accident at the season opening Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
"The new car was positive to drive straight out of the box, which is a good sign and, on good tyres, the grip will be even better.
"There's still a bit of testing and tuning to do, but the team has done an incredible job with its rebuild and the 60 laps we ran at Winton on Monday were the perfect chance to shake it down."
One of the added stories to this weekend's Sandown 500 is the V8 Supercar debut of the Holden Racing Team's Ryan Briscoe.
Back after testing last week at Winton and then making a whirlwind trip to America to race at Infineon Raceway in the IRL IndyCar Series event last weekend, the 24 year old will pair up with Jim Richards in the #22 HRT Holden.
Opening practice for the Sandown 500 will commence on Friday with qualifying and the Top 10 Shootout on Saturday. The 39 running of the Sandown enduro classic will commence on Sunday at 1pm AEST.
-credit: holden motorsports