Given the distance of today’s Wilson Security Sandown 500, it will be the ability to pass and improve throughout the day that will be important – no one has won from ARMOR ALL Pole Position since 1996, when Craig Lowndes and Greg Murphy won the race.
Shane van Gisbergen was one of the big movers in yesterday’s qualifying races and while he joked it was because of people crashing at the first corner, there’s no dispute gaining 12 positions over 20 laps is an achievement.
And the kiwi feels he is in a position to challenge the top five, if they can get the TEKNO Autosports Commodore up there.
“I thought I’ve got nothing to lose if I fire it off, we’re going to start last anyway and we’ve got zero points to lose,” van Gisbergen told v8supercars.com.au.
“I went as fast as I could and passed a few – I think a lot of people burned their tyres off – so we were still quick at the end as well.
“But 14th is a lot better than 26, where we were!”
Van Gisbergen’s international co-driver Jeroen Bleekemolen had been holding position – though the car didn’t qualify well, in 16 – until the tailshaft in broke in the #97 VIP Petfoods Commodore.
“It was getting replaced anyway, but didn’t help the cause – the boys did good to fix it in the break, and then I got going at the end.”
Though he had joked about it earlier, positions gained weren’t all because of the first lap incident. “We had really good speed – I think probably if we were in the top five we could have stayed there and raced with them.
“Hopefully we can get up there.”
Van Gisbergen didn’t make any bold predictions for the 500, but believes the team has made good improvements with the car, which is fast on old tyres.
Other big movers in the main series drivers qualifying race were Tony D’Alberto up 10 positions and Todd Kelly up five.
And while it paid off for those who improved in the second qualifying session, it went the other way for some.
Johnson was the biggest mover in the 20-lap sprint for co-drivers, rounding up nine cars to finish 12th.
But it’s gone the opposite way for the SP Tools Mercedes-Benz duo, as Maro Engel was involved in an incident in his stint and tumbled down the order, set to start from 25th.
However, Johnson – an experienced campaigner who has won a ‘500’, albeit at Queensland Raceway in 2001 – will tone down the aggression at the start of the race and focus on the long haul. Plenty of time to progress through the field today: “The good thing about today is we’ve got 141 laps to do it!” Johnson said.
“Today is probably going to be a bit different in the way we start the race because it’s obviously an important race and I won’t be as aggressive at the start of the race.”
He believed he would be starting the race, though it wasn’t yet confirmed.
“I’ll try to keep the car clean with no damage because as soon as you damage the car, whether you bang into someone or knock the steering out, you can’t put up with that for a 100 lapper. I just have to try and be careful and pick off the other drivers one by one.
“I have to try and get the car up as far as I can before the stops… With me starting it give us a few options of me doing a really long stint then putting Maro in for the end. Or if circumstance has it that I get out early and Maro gets out, I can get back in. It gives us good options for the end of the race.”
Johnson feels he is more than capable of holding his own with not just the co-drivers, but the main series drivers as well.
“Sure I haven’t done the miles in these cars the same as what everyone else has who has been in them full time, but I feel comfortable in the car. When you’re feeling comfortable you can push and you can do a good job.
“If we have a few things go our way today, like a few early safety cars to bunch the field up and get past a few more, I’ll be very happy.”
Paul Dumbrell (1) led the warm up session, ahead of Will Davison and Scott McLaughlin.
Bleekemolen (97) finished 26th, and Engel 17th.