(V)8 Things we learned at Pukekohe
- By Bruce Newton
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Please Marcos, just say something
So Marcos Ambrose has retired from V8 Supercars racing. At least we think he has based on what team owner Roger Penske told the media over the weekend in Auckland. It's a real pity that we didn't hear that from Ambrose himself, who has been about as good at ducking questions about his future as he has exiting circuits post-race - no-one does it better or more quickly. It's a trick he learned in NASCAR apparently. Ambrose is a great race car driver, one of the greatest this category has ever witnessed and I'm glad I got to see him race in his pomp. The thousands of people who have read stories about him on this website this year clearly remember that era too. Marcos should speak himself on this matter to explain just what is going on. Then his thousands of fans should get the chance to acknowledge and celebrate his achievements. Hopefully, unlike another legend and similarly private personality, Allan Moffat, he doesn't just drift away.
Meanwhile, looking forward...
Scott Pye expressed the hope that Sunday's third place would be the first of many V8 Supercars podiums for himself and DJR Team Penske. Yep, if you can get a bookie dumb enough to lay long odds on that one, back it with your house people. With Roger Penske looking on, Pye had a great weekend, finally getting a reward for the talent he has shown throughout his career. With Pye it's always been about putting a car under him that could do the business. So plaudits to Nick Hughes, Mark Fenning and the rest of the technical crew at DJR Team Penske for achieving just that and having the first Ford home on Sunday. Next year Pye, Fabian Coulthard and DJRTP are going to be players in this championship.
It could have been better, but it also could have been much worse
No doubt Mark Winterbottom should have qualified closer to the front on Sunday and then he wouldn't have copped the punt that spun him to the back of the field. But his drive from 25th to 11th was as full of merit as his Sandown or Bathurst performances. Watching him bang panels and slide on to the grass as he battled with Dale Wood for 17th place said plenty about his mindset. Rather than trying to save the championship he still wants to win it. That's commendable. Yes, he came out of the weekend with his points lead narrowed further but it could have been so much worse if he'd been nailed after the spin or run off the road into a wall while coming back through. Not to forget he also dodged a points bullet when Craig Lowndes DNFed Race 29 after that catastrophic tyre failure.
Did we see a new David Reynolds?
Amateur psychologists will no doubt be pondering the effect Prodrive's decision to part with David Reynolds will have on the eccentric 30-year old, especially in the wake of his outstanding Pukekohe performance. Reynolds responded to the public confirmation of his Prodrive exit with one of the most consistent and impressive weekends of his V8 career. A win, a pole and consistent front-running pace were testament to that. But lap speed has never been Reynolds' big issue. For some people, such as PRA team principal Tim Edwards it's been his combativeness - or perceived lack of it. So Reynolds' willingness to hang tough with Jamie Whincup in Race 29 to defend his lead was an indicator that something might have switched in Davey's head. There's another impact of Reynolds' departure and that's his attitude towards the championship, in which he trails Mark Winterbottom by 239 points. His commitment to being a dutiful team-mate has surely become less of a priority than scoring max points for himself. Just imagine if he did win PRA's first ever championship ... and then took the #1 to Erebus.
A preview of 2016?
Jamie Whincup was re-establishing himself as a V8 Supercar driver when he partnered with the late Jason Richards to second in the 2005 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 in a Tasman Motorsport Holden Commodore VZ. Ten years on there it was fitting that he won the memorial trophy named in the much missed Kiwi's honour. It will be one of the few (by his lofty standards) pieces of silverware added to Whincup's groaning trophy cabinet this year. But Pukekohe gave us a reminder of what Jamie does when he is on-song and that's gallop off into the distance at a pace no-one else can match. A preview of 2016? His rivals are hoping not, but undoubtedly finishing back in the pack this year will only serve as a motivation for a driver who loves invoking redemption as motivation for his motor racing success.
Speaking of redemption, team owner Roland Dane's emphatic congratulations for David Cauchi after Jamie Whincup's Race 28 win spoke more clearly than thousands of words could about the internal trauma that Triple Eight has endured this year as it shuffled engineers in search of pace for the #1 Holden Commodore. Cauchi copped the brunt of it with his temporary demotion which he endured stoically. He never appeared anything less than focussed on the job at race meetings and continued to be quick to flash his signature grin. It is crucial the relationship between Whincup and Cauchi bonds the second time round as Triple Eight expands to three cars in 2106. Hey, it may never reach the same nuclear bomb proof strength Whincup had with Mark Dutton, and which Jamie clearly craved as his season floundered. But it doesn't need to, it just has to work.
Those were Jamie Whincup's words as he crossed the line in Race 30 on Sunday and he wasn't just talking about himself and Craig Lowndes, who followed him across the line a few seconds later for an emphatic one-two. Both drivers went out of their way to pay tribute to their Triple Eight crew post-race. Lowndes would not have even been on the grid at all if not for their stoic all-night efforts after his incredible crash on Saturday. Not only was the car fixed, but the flawless pit stops, strategy and car speed that got him from 10th on the grid to second was outstanding. RBRA has now reclaimed second in the teams' championship from HRT and is 288 points behind Pepsi Max Crew with 1200 points still in play. It's game on - as Mark Skaife would say - in the battle for the strategic advantage and prestige parking at the head of pitlane delivers.
The hot favourite to replace David Reynolds at Prodrive in 2015 showed himself to be a feisty scrapper at Pukekohe, spending most of the 200km Sunday race in a war with HRT hard-nuts James Courtney and Garth Tander. He was also responsible for the concertina that ended up spinning Winterbottom and then copped a drive-through for tagging Courtney as their battle raged on. Some people are suggesting all this proves Waters isn't ready for the main game. I'd say just the opposite. He qualified only just behind Winterbottom on Sunday and then spent the entire race refusing to be intimidated by two of the toughest racers on the grid. Damn, I can't wait for him to get into the championship full time.