But while he was tearing up the field from the back, there was plenty of action at the pointy end. The #2 Holden Commodore of Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly may have inherited second place after the Ingall/Marcos Ambrose Stone Brothers Racing Falcon dropped back – but they had to fight to get ahead and win the race.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the pair, who went on to win what was Skaife’s second Sandown 500 victory (his first was with Jim Richards in 1989) and Todd Kelly’s second career win.
Kelly, 24 years old at the time, started on the grid and didn’t get the best launch off the line. But he held his own and handed the car over to his more experienced co-driver to finish the race.
And while it was Skaife who had to deliver the victory, there would have been plenty of nerves in the garage from Kelly – the weather turned, with hail coming down on the circuit, the Commodore suffered from electrical issues late in the race and young Kiwi driver Jason Richards in his Team Dynamik VY Commodore pushed as hard as he could, going for glory.
The move on the leader didn’t go as he’d hoped and Richards failed to finish the race.
Firstly, when speaking to v8supercars.com.au Kelly didn’t quite remember the significance of 2003. But it all came flooding back and he couldn’t help but speak highly of Richards’ move, despite it not paying off.
“Any (500km race) that ends up on the podium for a win is obviously pretty special,” Kelly said.
“To look back now at the races I did with Skaifey and the good results we got was a pretty special time, so it’s certainly one of the highlights over the last 15 years.”
But Sandown 2003?
“That’s the one where him and Jason Richards were fighting at the end!” Kelly recalled.
“I do remember that bit at the end. Young Jase was pushing hard.
“He was a ripper of a driver for that, the way he drove and the passion that he had for his racing and his driving. It was good to see him take it up to Mark.
“Right at the end there it was nearly all over for everyone, but it was one of those things. When you’re a young guy in that position you spend the rest of your life regretting not having a go at that one, and he did, which was good.
“We came out of it on top, which was great for us but that could’ve gone either way.
“That was, as far as a spectacle for the fans, a pretty good way to end a race when there’s a massive tussle like that going on, especially in those conditions.”
Kelly said he didn’t remember a situation where he had backed out of a pass, or regretted not going for it.
“Any time like that I normally would – even if it doesn’t come off!” he laughed.
“But there is no point that I’ve come second that I wish I had’ve thrown the car in there and seen how it would come out.
“There’s no regrets at all over the years at not having a crack.”
During the week a handful of Bathurst greats and current day V8 Supercars drivers gathered in Sydney to celebrate the upcoming Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and the significance of new generation Nissans and Mercedes-Benzes heading back to Mount Panorama after many years out of the sport.
While Kelly wasn’t present, younger brother and two-time Bathurst winner Rick was at the event with his Jack Daniel’s Nissan.
Kelly was excited to head to the Great Race in the new make, but wasn’t getting ahead of himself.
“It would be good to see where we get to with Sandown, and further understand where we’d sit heading into Bathurst,” he said.
“It will be a huge weekend for us, and even bigger for Nissan staff and the Nissan fans who haven’t been out for 20 years.
“It will be pretty interesting at the event to see a fanbase reawaken to our sport and should be awesome.”
Kelly praised the support and positivity from the team’s fans after stablemate James Moffat’s recent Winton race win in the Norton car.
“It means a lot to me, Nissan and our team,” he said.