Nancy Knapp Schilke, V8 Supercars Correspondent
Rick Kelly placed his Jack Daniel’s Racing Commodore on pole position when the Sandown International Raceway was dry but just minutes before the start of today’s Australia V8 Supercars race; the rain came down while teams switched from slick to wet tires before the standing start.
Despite the weather and the restarts, Rick Kelly held his ground from the start to the finish to take the victory in the first race of this weekend’s Norton 360 Sandown Challenge in Melbourne, Australia. Known as the “rain dancer”, Kelly was slipping and sliding but never in danger of losing his lead as he crossed the line with 3.4 seconds to spare in the race which was called early due to the time limit. It was his third win of the 2011 season. “The Jack Daniel’s Commodores were outstanding in the wet, untouchable," said the race winner.
"It was a very nerve-wracking race from my point of view, with all the safety cars, but I'm super stoked to be here," said Rick Kelly. "That car, in the wet, was quite obviously on rails so I really have to thank my guys."
2010 series champion James Courtney was second in his Toll HRT Commodore and he put up a good fight, despite visibility problems due to the heavy spray from not only the leader but the backmarkers who he and the leaders had to pass under difficult conditions. Full course cautions allowed Courtney some opportunities but on every restart, Kelly responded to keep the Courtney at bay.
Courtney said, "It was a tough old day and the conditions were pretty crazy. In the end we had nothing left for Rick. We used it all up to catch him, but it's still a great result for the team."
Adding to the delight of the Jack Daniel’s Team was Todd Kelly who came across in third after moving his way up the leaderboard, despite the rain, after starting 14th on the grid. His final rival for the podium was Will Davison in the Trading Post Falcon; the two were putting on a show on the final lap. The two were side-by-side coming out of the final turn onto the main straight. Kelly had the leading edge at the checkered flag.
“The car was an absolute bullet in the race,” said Todd Kelly.
Shane van Gisbergen (SP Tools Falcon) placed fifth followed by one of the TeamVodafone Commodore drivers who are the top contenders for this year’s championship. Craig Lowndes started at the rear of the field but did a brilliant job to finish sixth and was able to lower the gap that his team mate Jamie Whincup had on him before Saturday’s race.
Our car speed throughout that race was really good.
"We made some adjustments to the car because obviously this morning's qualifying wasn't anywhere near where we should have been," said Lowndes. "Our car speed throughout that race was really good."
Seventh went to Mark Winterbottom (Orrcon Falcon) ahead of Garth Tander (Toll HRT Commodore). Fabian Coulthard (Bundaberg Commodore) ended ninth and Steve Owen (VIP Petfoods Commodore) rounded out the top 10.
With a disappointing 13th, Whincup now has 2883 points to Lowndes 2725. Tomorrow, the always close and action-packed racing for V8 Supercars competitors will contest the second race at Sandown. They will leave Melbourne with two races remaining on the calendar. For TeamVodafone, however, they now have wrapped up the team championship for the 2011 season.