Coulthard wins amid tyre, penalty drama
- By Stefan Bartholomaeus
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Fabian Coulthard has taken the lead of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship after coming out on top in a chaotic opening leg of the WD-40 Phillip Island 500.
Craig Lowndes greeted the chequered flag ahead of Coulthard when the race reached its time cut-off six laps shy of the scheduled 57 lap duration.
Lowndes, however, had been one of a slew of drivers handed a 15 second time penalty for crossing into the slow lane at pit entry, dropping to 12th in the result.
That left Coulthard with the win from Jamie Whincup, Garth Tander, erstwhile points leader Shane van Gisbergen and Michael Caruso.
Simona de Silvestro finished sixth on the road but like Lowndes also took a post-race time penalty for the pit entry breach, putting her back to 13th.
The race had been dominated by tyre failures which hit a large portion of the field, including eventual winner Coulthard.
“It’s not the way we wanted to win under Safety Car but we’d been through our fair share of misfortunes,” said Coulthard.
“It’s a never give up attitude. We just carried on and eventually got the job done.”
The action started on the very first corner, where an elbow from Cameron Waters sent David Reynolds sliding through the grass.
The Erebus Holden subsequently slid into Rick Kelly at Turn 2, while chaos behind also saw James Courtney, Nick Percat, Lee Holdsworth, Todd Kelly and Lowndes off the road.
Coulthard had won the battle to the first corner and led until he suffered a right-front tyre failure on lap 19, handing the front-running to team-mate Scott McLaughlin.
The first of the blowouts had come as early as lap 10. More than 10 blew before the Safety Car was called on lap 23 to clean up tyre debris on the circuit.
That split the strategies among the front-runners, with McLaughlin staying out and his closest pursuers Van Gisbergen and Mark Winterbottom taking their second stops.
The race then took another bizarre twist when McLaughlin and then Van Gisbergen and Winterbottom were dealt 15 second time penalties for crossing into the slow lane at pit entry.
Confusion over the unusual rule breach unfolded under Safety Car while several others including Tander, De Silvestro and Caruso pitted on consecutive laps to complete the minimum 140 litre fuel drop.
Yet to take his penalty, McLaughlin led the middle stages of the race until a second Safety Car on lap 42, this time to retrieve James Courtney’s Holden from the gravel after a tangle with Cameron Waters, triggered final pitstops for those yet to reach their minimum fuel.
That left Tander to restart in the lead from De Silvestro, Caruso, Coulthard, Lowndes, Tim Slade – who was taken out by Will Davison a short time later – and Whincup.
By this point a second string of 15 second time penalties had been issued to Lowndes, Percat, Holdsworth and De Silvestro, all of which were to be added post-race.
After the final restart, Coulthard charged to the front before being overtaken by Lowndes.
The order was then frozen thanks to a final Safety Car caused by Percat suffering a tyre failure and crashing into Alex Rullo.
Damage to the Holdens of Percat and Rullo joined Reynolds (gearbox) and Dale Wood (suspension) on the retirements list.