A near-collision between Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney and Nissan’s Todd Kelly in qualifying has left both drivers blaming the other for what could have ended in disaster.
It is the second time the two drivers have clashed in two events, Courtney punting Kelly into The Chase sand trap late in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Both HRT Commodores were released early for their final qualifying run in today’s 20-minute session but hard barely cleared turn one on their fliers before encountering cars still on their warm-up lap.
Courtney tried to stay on the throttle as he passed Kelly, but was nearly squeezed into the wall as the carsales.com.au Altima weaved to the left warming tyres.
Courtney and team-mate Garth Tander then backed out of their hot laps.
Officially, Kelly has been blamed for the incident in which he blocked Courtney’s qualifying run and has been penalised two grid spots, dropping him from 21st to 23rd on the grid.
But a furious Kelly was having none of that post-session.
“I looked in the mirror three times and didn’t even see those two cars,” he told supercars.com. “Obviously everyone goes out together at the end of qualifying and it’s been like that for 100 years.
“As soon as I saw him I got out of the throttle I got out of the way of him and the second car. And as long as your bum points to the ground they were never going to complete that lap.
“They might have got through another one or two cars but there were anther 20 cars in front of them.
“So I get two grid spots for that … he punts me into the sand trap at Bathurst and costs me 140 points and he gets 25; I think the system is working well.”
Kelly confirmed he did not get a radio call form his put crew warning him of the impending arrival of the HRT Commodores.
“But at the end of the day it’s my responsibility to look in the mirrors, which I was constantly,” he said.
Courtney, who ended up qualifying 11th, described the incident as “hairy”.
“I went to go left and then he swerved back over. In the car I thought I was going in,” he said.
“I had to abort my lap and we pressure the tyres to go on your first lap and you have that as your lap and if you make mistake you bank a couple of extra laps.
“It wasn’t pole position or anything but it took the shiny bit off the tyre and so you end up in the pack with everyone.
“Hopefully he didn’t mean it, hopefully he just didn’t see me.”
HRT team boss Adrian Burgess explained why Courtney and Tander had been released earlier than the rest of the field for their final qualifying session.
“Yesterday when we put the green tyre on at the end of the session we just didn’t get a lap because of the kerb hops and overshooting the first chicane, so instead of doing three runs we elected to do two longer runs and just let them build up.
“So we were a little bit of out of sequence, but even having said that we were on a lap and the teams should have been telling them there was someone coming.
“Clearly Todd wasn’t told anything and he didn’t see us so we were lucky we avoided a shunt.
“We didn’t miss-time anything, we went when we wanted to go and we achieve the laps we wanted to achieve.”
Courtney and co-driver Jack Perkins started from the same position when they won the Sunday 300km outing at the 2015 Gold Coast event.
Defending Pirtek Enduro Cup championship Tander and Warren Luff start from 14th.