Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen are the 2015 Sandown 500 winners, holding out Prodrive team-mates Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters in the first V8 Supercars endurance race of the season.
The race started out as a battle between Paul Dumbrell in #1, Jono Webb in #97, and the two Prodrive entries. The foursome ran reasonably close together across the first four stints, gaps varying mostly based on fuel intake at the stops.
The only exception to that was a stunning second stint from Waters, who was forced to do some passing after a long first stop for fuel to make sure he stayed in touch with the leading trio.
It was on Lap 111 that the first major change at the front happened. Having effectively led every lap to that point, and in genuine contention to win the race, the #1 Commodore pitted to make a scheduled stop.
And it proved to be a disaster, a problem with the right-front causing the stop to run significantly longer than necessary, before the right-rear was immediately punctured as he left the lane, forcing him to pit again a lap later.
As a result, Whincup and Dumbrell finished a lowly 16th.
“It’s just how it is,” said Dumbrell.
“It hasn’t gone to plan, but what do you do? This race is such a tough one.”
That left van Gisbergen, Winterbottom, and Mostert scrapping over the lead for the remainder of the race – with all three focussed on fuel saving hoping to one-stop the final 50-odd laps.
As splash-and-dash on Lap 118 helped Winterbottom jump van Gisbergen for the lead, leaving the Kiwi in second with mirrors full of Mostert. The pressure from Mostert finally paid off, with van Gisbergen running wide and letting Mostert through at Dandenong Road on Lap 132.
With the race turning into an economy trial, a late Safety Car was needed. And on Lap 133 it finally arrived, debris on the track sparking a second caution of the day.
With fuel concerns gone after the caution, the race became a straight fight to the finish. And with track position, and a very speedy Falcon, he was able to hold out team-mate a hard-charging Mostert to the finish, with van Gisbergen third.
“That’s awesome. Steve did a great job, the car was good in stints and bad in stints, but that’s awesome," said Winterbottom. "I’m so happy for Steve, the team, and for myself."
It was a good day for Walkinshaw Racing, with four cars in the Top 10. Garth Tander was the star of the team, a typically-gritty drive helping him take car #2 to fourth place after replacing Warren Luff at the second stop.
Tim Slade and Tony D’Alberto were both impressive as they took the Supercheap Commodore to sixth, with the Lee Holdsworth/Sebastien Bourdais car finishing eighth. Jack Perkins and Russell Ingall capped it all off with ninth in the second HRT car.
The #3 LD Motorsport Commodore was the surprise performer of the day, coming home eighth. Last-minute co-driver signing Karl Reindler put in an excellent stint to get the car into a good position, with Tim Blanchard brigning it home in impressive fashion after a tough year so far.
Rick Kelly and David Russell rounded out the Top 10 in the Jack Daniel’s Nissan.
Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat’s day was ruined by having to tour pit-lane three times in three laps during the first stint.
The first was a scheduled stop, Premat pitting for a splash-and-dash on Lap 14. However, a mix-up from the crew saw the air spike stuck in the car as Premat re-joined the race, which resulted in a second stop to have it removed, and a third trip to the pits to serve a drive-through penalty for leaving the spike in in the first place.
“It’s just one of those things, everyone makes mistakes,” said McLaughlin.
“We’ll push on for your sponsors, [there’s] nothing we can do about it now.”
They went on to finish 14th, one spot behind the Craig Lowndes/Steve Richards entry, which made decent progress after starting at the back of the field.
Oliver Gavin, meanwhile, barely got going, his day ended after just 18 laps thanks to a broken front suspension component. He wasn’t the only Brit to have problems; Alex Buncombe finished just 24th, after nosing Todd Kelly’s Nissan into the wall at Dandenong Road early in the third stint.
“Dandenong Road caught me out,” he said.
“It’s not been the ideal way to start our enduro campaign with Todd, we’ve been on the back foot pretty much all weekend. We’ve been struggling with the set-up of the car.”
Erebus combo Will and Alex Davison also copped some bad luck; with a Top 10 finish well and truly on the cards, the car had to be wheeled into the garage late in the race because of a problem, leaving them seven laps back.