New Zealand drivers Jason Richards and Greg Murphy were again to the fore in Australia’s great race in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panorama yesterday.
Last year they combined to finish on the podium but yesterday Richards finished second for Team BOC and Murphy fourth in the hard luck story of the event at Bathurst today won by Garth Tander and Will Davison for Holden Racing Team.
They ended a three-year streak of Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup, also preventing a record fourth, by holding out two rampant Kiwis and a pair of genuinely fast Aussie battlers to take the crown.
In another classic, Tander defied the pressure to hold out Richards (Cam McConville) and Lee Holdsworth (Michael Caruso), as well as the great Murphy who proved his combination with Mark Skaife was a formidable pairing.
It was Tander’s second win on the mountain and the first for Davison who joined HRT at the start of the year and is closing the gap of V8 Supercar Championship Series leader Whincup in the run to the Sydney Telstra 500 in December. Tander was ice-cool to the finish despite the enormous pressure while Davison had the drive of his life when the mountain did what it can during a period of torrential rain that made conditions treacherous.
The hard luck story was that of Murphy and Skaife who appeared to have the best chance of anyone before a safety car with 20 laps to go killed their near perfect strategy. They missed a crucial pit stop by five seconds when the safety car was called.
“I’ve never seen a race like that,” Murphy said.“We went from hero, to zero to hero to zero. It was great fun and those on the podium deserve to be there. We gave it our all and just fell short. It’s the best fourth place I’ve ever had.”
Skaife was likewise: “It smashed us. We were under green to make the shortest fuel stop. Without another safety car we are hammered. It’s a cruel game; I’ll give you the tip.”
At the other end of the scale the other Kiwi Jason Richards came within 0.7s of victory.
“Maybe next year we only need that 0.7,” Richards said. “I was sitting back there in sixth at one point but just kept running up the back of other cars. I couldn’t do much. Then it all just happened. It was do or die, I’m not going to sit here and finish sixth at Bathurst.”
Lowndes battle came, went and came again throughout the race while Whincup had a remote chance towards the end before a late incident.
“It was a very tough day,” Lowndes admitted. “The conditions were difficult to keep on top of and we had a couple of little things go wrong.
“The team did an unbelievable job with strategy, Jamie did a fantastic job in the final stint and despite the problems we encountered the car soldiered on all day.”
The action started from the onset. A heavy shower drenched the circuit just before the start with the field starting on wet tyres and a safety car called on lap one.
Tander and Davison took control early from Lowndes but the dramas had just begun. Lowndes copped a drive-through penalty for a pit lane infringement shuffling him back through into the second half of the pack.
All the while Murphy and Skaife pushed and pushed at the front, on lap 43 claiming second place as rain threatened again.
Steven Richards had a cracking start and put his FPR Falcon in great shape but tragedy would soon strike the pair. On the 50th lap a loose battery ignited the car. Luckily Winterbottom was near pit entry and pulled in with the flames soaring from the rear.
Quick work by rival crews from Dean Fiore, Paul Morris and the HRT outfits helped the fire crews douse the blaze and get Winterbottom out but the damage was too great for them to continue.
“I saw a bit of smoke and I tried to get it back to the pits as you do, but when it’s on fire you don’t muck around, you just stop. I was 100 metres short from showing the (FPR) guys what was going on,” Winterbottom said.
“I have never been in a fire before so you sort of think s**t what am I meant to do now, get out or press the fire bomb? You don’t know what to do. You try to get out; it’s not a nice thing to have that is for sure.”
The rain struck again right on the midway point of the race. Jim Beam Racing’s James Courtney was the biggest victim when a touch with Alex Davison spun him around near the top of the mountain. He was left stranded and shuffled to the back of the pack.
Of the other New Zealanders Shane Van Gisbergen with Alex Davison were 13th, Daniel Gaunt and John McIntyre 19th, Craig Baird with Paul Dumbrell 21st while Fabian Coulthard and Steven Richards did not finish.