Ten years on, Rick Kelly has opened up about his controversial Championship victory at Phillip Island and why that Sunday was one of the hardest days of his V8 Supercars career.
Then 23 years old, Kelly was dead even with Craig Lowndes on points heading into the final race of the season, where Holden and Ford lined up side by side on the second row of the grid.
Kelly made contact with the rear of Lowndes’ Triple Eight Falcon during the race, which sent the Falcon off track. Another V8 Supercar barrelled into Lowndes and caused extensive damage.
The HSV Dealer Team car was handed a drive-through penalty, but Kelly finished the race and was awarded the Championship Trophy with an investigation to come the following day.
Kelly remained the 2006 champion – and 10 years on, the team owner and Sengled Nissan driver still wishes it had all gone differently.
“From our point of view, it was a terrible day because it ended the way it did,” Kelly told v8supercars.com.
“We had a fantastic year and put ourselves in a really great position in the championship. And a mistake I made on the track put a cloud over the whole thing.
“So as far as how do I think back on that – not in a great light, no.”
It was an incredible race for spectators, but Kelly doesn’t see it that way.
“You don’t want to have that happen – for me it was one of the most challenging days of my whole career.
“It means that much to you and to go in the car and make that mistake like that, was something that put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth – it was just one of those things.
“Normally when you make a mistake like I made [you] get a drive through and you’re done.
“In our case Craig sustained damage, which meant our drive through still let me win the championship.
“It was a bummer. We had good car speed in that last race and we didn’t have a clean weekend – we had dash trouble, we had a slower pit stop, which kept putting us behind the eight ball and it didn’t finish well.
“For me, the better memories of 2006 were the lead up to that event because we did put ourselves in a fantastic position, not so much in the end.
“So when you come to Phillip Island, I don’t think fondly of that day, that’s for sure, but I certainly think fondly of the place because it is for me one of the most enjoyable tracks I’ve been to.”
It’s not something Kelly talks about much, though it has, of course, been revisited many times in the press.
“People have no drama commenting on it or writing about it, but no one’s really thought about the incident itself or what it was like for us,” he said.
“For me it has been – I’m a driver who doesn’t like to make a mistake, and for me having made a mistake at the most critical round of my career was not ideal.”
Kelly stayed on with HSV Dealer Team the following two seasons, but branched out with brother Todd in 2009 to start Kelly Racing. For 2013, they earned manufacturer backing from Nissan and have been developing the Altimas since.
The squad consistently shows promise, with podium results including an impressive fuel race by Kelly and David Russell at the Gold Coast next year. A win seems just around the corner, and Phillip Island was a good circuit for the Nissans last year.
“It certainly has been a kinder circuit to us than places like Perth and Tassie,” Kelly said of Phillip Island.
“If we don’t qualify well we we’re pretty much going to be stuck in the pack so it puts a lot more emphasis (on that).
“Like every track these days, it’s hard to pass, but it does put a lot of emphasis on qualifying.
“It’s a bit of a unique track – you just need to get the most out of the car in qualifying around here so our focus is basically that at the moment.
“If we can do that then we’re probably a good shot, hopefully, at a top five result.”
Kelly finished fourth in practice yesterday, in the session topped by Scott McLaughlin.