Nancy Knapp Schilke
After six hours, 26 minutes and 52 seconds, the victory in this year’s Bathurst 1000 was taken by Garth Tander by just 0.29 seconds over Craig Lowndes. The final laps saw the 2010 winner chase down Tander and with Lowndes more than five seconds back, his task appeared to be impossible but the TeamVodafone driver never gave up on the Mount Panorama Circuit in Australia.
On lap 156, Lowndes had closed the gap down to 2.3 seconds and kept chipping away the tenths lap-by-lap which not only had the V8 Supercar Series fans waiting with baited breath to see who would win at the conclusion of 161 laps, but also the world wide audience that tuned in to watch the live broadcast.
Both teams were focused on the battle and no doubt the team in the Toll Holden Racing garage was filled with tension; especially first time racer on the mountain Nick Percat.
“That was awesome!” smiled Tander. “The car was so good and everyone did an absolutely fantastic job. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of people saying he (Nick) didn’t have enough experience but I had absolute faith in him and Nick did a great job.” It was Tander’s third Bathurst 1000 victory but the first for Percat.
In his debut, Percat made it into the history book of the famous event by taking the win. “I knew what the car was like at the end of its tyres but Garth did it. All the boys on the radio kept me calm and settled me down and I pressed on,” he said about the final run to the finish line by his more experienced teammate and the team talking him through his own stint.
Taking on the challenge of Bathurst – the one race that every driver wants to list on his or her accomplishments -- is never easy and today’s victory by the red lion Holden Racing Team had a plus factored in the celebration due to the manufacturer (Holden Commodore) taking the podium sweep and to top it off, it was HRT’s 200th victory.
While Lowndes could have been filled with disappointment, he was not. “That’s racing and I would go back and do it again in a minute,” he smiled “Ran with Garth all day and tried at the end but came up short.”
Lowndes and his teammate for this weekend’s endurance race, Mark Skaife, were able to bring the TeamVodafone Commodore home for the podium finish. The two did encounter an electrical problem but pushed to regain track position and for their efforts, they not only finished second but Lowndes is the series points leader.
Skaife said, “I’ll have a think about my driving future over the next week or so but I’ve enjoyed this weekend immensely. Watching that last part of that race was as good as I’ve seen.”
Pepsi Max Crew team’s drivers Greg Murphy and Allan Simonsen placed third in their Commodore after taking the pole for today’s endurance test. They were in the top 10 from the start but midway through the race, they dropped back. Murphy was able to move up the leader board when once again a Safety Car was deployed and the timing was perfect, allowing him to gain positions.
On the final restart, Murphy sat second but he could not hold off the charging Lowndes and after a hard-fought battle, Murphy said, “Third is a huge result. I didn't see it happening that way half way through the race. I guess it's one of those deals where you never give up."
Simonsen commented: “This podium compares as big as any of the others I’ve ever had. I said to Murph when we got up on the podium this is very special, but I didn't think it was going to be that special.
“But it was very, very special. It's almost like standing at the podium at Le Mans. It’s just an amazing experience. I’m privileged to come here to Australia to race. I think this championship is one of the best in the world and to be partnering Greg is just fantastic.”
Simonsen’s comments were spot on as not only were there new drivers who had never taken on the challenge of Bathurst, there were also racing fans that never witnessed the V8 Supercars compete but thanks to the live broadcast, many did.
Mark Winterbottom took the wheel for the final stint to the checkered flag from his co-driver Steve Richards and was able to place their Orrcon Steel FPR Falcon in fourth but they had their moments as Richards said, “As I said to a few of the people in the team – the week we’ve had, the preparation and effort that we have all put in was as good as it could have been. Bathurst is one of those places where anything can happen and today it meant we just missed out.”
Winterbottom was one of the main contenders at the end but like many he got held up during a Safety Car period which was quite unusual. At first it appeared that Jamie Whincup might have ran out of fuel but it turned out that his TeamVodfone crew had to replace the battery – not once but twice before the race ended. Whincup was in second behind Tander when he slowed before coming to a stop which was the reason for the Safety Car being deployed but then he started to move again. While some drivers were able to make a pit stop, others were stuck behind Whincup and could not pass him until they were heading down the hill and he was able to move offline to allow the passing per the rules. At the time Winterbottom was in third.
When the race restarted, Tander had the lead followed by Murphy, Jason Bright, Russell Ingall, Karl Reindler and Winterbottom who was sixth. From that point on, he had to find his way back to the top five. Lowndes was further back but both worked the traffic very well to get themselves higher on the leader board and when others had problems, both Lowndes who was on a flying charge to the front and Winterbottom were able to move up.
“I was in a good rhythm until we were delayed by Whincup and then oil on the track affected a lot of us and also meant passing was really tough there for a while. We also had a little bit of oversteer so a little more grip would’ve helped but fourth from where we were is a pretty good result considering the setbacks we had. We’ll come back next year and try to win it again,” said Winterbottom.
Taking the fifth spot was the Team BOC Commodore team with drivers Bright and Andrew Jones. “I'm disappointed with the weekend as a whole but I'm very happy with a fifth place out of a car that we were struggling with all day. It did get better during the race but it wasn't as quick as the three or four ahead of us so I'm glad I could race and hang onto fifth. Earlier in the race we wouldn't have been able to do that,” said Bright.
Andrews commented, “To finish where we did is a massive credit to the people that work here. We were obviously very lucky with how the safety car fell but we played the cards right. It's just a shame that Brighty ended up with a knife in that gunfight at the end!”
There was one scary moment in today’s race. David Besnard made contact with the safety barrier wall and tore up the Jim Beam Racing Falcon before sliding to a stop but flames roared up and spread toward his car before he was able to get out. The track marshals and the fire crew at the corner were able to react quickly before as the safety vehicles were rushing to the scene. Besnard was able to get out of the car before it was engulfed completely in flames.
“It is really unfortunate for the team and Steve. We made a pad change and I did not have radio communication with our engineer Greg Wheeler. I pumped the brakes but way too late and the car fired straight into the wall. I feel very disappointed for the whole Jim Beam team,” explained Besnard.
His teammate could do nothing but watch the scene from the garages on pit lane and afterwards, Steven Johnson added his thoughts. “Thankfully David is OK. We saw him jump out of the car and the fire marshals were quickly on it. Just a rotten end to the race and such a blow for the whole Jim Beam crew who had worked so hard this weekend.”
TeamVodafone leaves Bathurst with both drivers still fighting for this year’s championship. Lowndes has 2329 over Whincup’s 2229.