How strategy shaped Darwin's great thriller

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 03/06/2021
  • By James Pavey, Pics by AN1 Images

The 2009 Darwin finale was a milestone result for Michael Caruso, who claimed victory in just his 50th main game start.

Caruso, who is now a co-driver for Team 18, scored his maiden victory 12 years ago at Hidden Valley Raceway, the next stop on the 2021 calendar.

The 2009 Darwin event featured Dunlop’s new-for-2009 Dunlop soft tyre compound, with Garry Rogers Motorsport vaulting Caruso to the front early on.

Caruso was in the lead by lap 8 of the 69-lapper, and led a race-high 45 laps.

WATCH: CARUSO'S DARWIN BREAKTHROUGH

Mixed tyre compound races are no more, with the upcoming Merlin Darwin Triple Crown to see the competitive debut of the Dunlop Super Soft compound.

That wasn’t the case in 2009, and it nearly saw Alex Davison, who was raging through the field on softs, nearly pip Caruso at the end.

Caruso had strong pace on the hard tyre, but the softer tyre’s extra grip handed Davison and Lowndes opportunity to steal victory from GRM’s grasp.

It wasn’t the first time GRM bucked the trend on strategy to risk it all; in 2007, Lee Holdsworth won the Oran Park finale, having already opted for wet tyres as rain fell on the warm-up lap.

Caruso became the newest latest first-time winner since Holdsworth, but that so nearly could have been Davison.

The end margin between Caruso and Davison was just 0.6s, the former hanging on after a eight-lap dash to the flag after a Safety Car intervention.

"I knew that the guys behind had their sticky tyres," Caruso said.

"[With] eight laps to go, it was always going to be hard staying in front of them, not to mention having a guy like Craig Lowndes in your mirrors, which is always intimidating.

"It's not like I haven't been in this position before, outside of V8 Supercars anyway. I've raced at the top right from go-karts to V8 Supercars and you carry that composure all the way through.”

It marked another key moment for GRM, which continued its giant-killing status with the surprise victory.

For Sydney-born Caruso, who added a second Darwin win aboard a Kelly-run Nissan Altima in 2016, the win was a chance to silence his and his team’s critics.

"I'm at the pinnacle of Australian motor racing and I probably haven't come to terms with just how big this is,” he said.

WATCH: CARUSO DOUBLES UP IN 2016

"It's been a long time coming, I've been in motorsport since I was 12 years old.

"To stand on the top step in V8 Supercars, a sport that is so big in this country and even in the world it's very, very special.

"For Garry Rogers Motorsport, this is a very big thing. We are a very low budget team, so to come away with a race win against teams that have won Bathursts and championships, it's very special."

The Repco Supercars Championship field will return to the Northern Territory for the Merlin Darwin Triple Crown across June 18-20. Tickets are available here.

The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo, and will be broadcast live and free on Seven.

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