The Debrief: A muted Melbourne

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 16/03/2020
  • By Stefan Bartholomaeus

The Beaurepaires Melbourne 400 was over before it really began, as organisers moved to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Supercars.com looks back at the drama in Melbourne and what could be gleaned from the limited track action.

Surreal scenes

Supercars teams and drivers were in pitlane ready and waiting to go out for two qualifying sessions on Friday morning when news came through the event had been cancelled.

The Australian Grand Prix Corporation made the call to shutdown the entire event following a decision by Formula 1 teams the previous night to abandon F1 running.

Gates had remained closed to the public upon their scheduled opening time on Friday morning, as the COVID-19 situation continued to develop.

Having a grandstand and paddock completely devoid of fans only added to the surreal scenes as the Supercars fraternity waited to hear its fate.

While Albert Park was out of its hands, Supercars immediately declared an intention to adapt its schedule in order to deliver a complete 2020 championship.

Rampaging Bulls

Unlike F1, which did not hold a single session, Supercars had already had four track outings on Thursday; two practice and two qualifying sessions.

Although the margins were tight, there was no doubt as to which squad had been on top; the Red Bull Holden Racing Team in ominous early form.

Shane van Gisbergen edged Jamie Whincup to the opening ARMOR ALL Pole, before Whincup turned the tide in second qualifying, where the Kiwi slipped to fourth.

It continued the team’s qualifying supremacy from Adelaide, where the duo had again split the pole positions.

To carry that form across two very different race tracks marks an impressive start to the campaign, even if we didn’t get to see how the form translated to race trim.

Fluctuating Fords

As fast as the Red Bull Commodores were, it was worth noting that their usual adversary McLaughlin was not even their closest rival on one-lap speed in Melbourne.

While fourth and fifth in the two sessions was by no means a disgrace, these days it’s a surprise whenever the #17 Ford is not among the top three in qualifying.

With Fabian Coulthard 12th and 10th in the two sessions on what is usually one of his strongest tracks, it was clear the Shell team was not quite there on set-up.

Tickford’s top guns instead had their measure; Will Davison carrying his consistent form from Adelaide to be third in both sessions, one place behind Cameron Waters in the second.

Andre Heimgartner also showed there’s nothing wrong with the Mustang package by managing a remarkable fifth on the grid for the opener, in just Kelly Racing’s second outings with its Fords.

Cruel-Drive

Thursday’s action wasn’t without drama - Practice 2 having ended with Macauley Jones hard in the tyre wall at Turn 1, having suffered a rear brake failure.

It marked the latest in a series of blows for the second-year main game driver, and another of which that had been out of his control.

Jones was clearly shaken by the latest incident but again vowed to pick himself up and bounce back, as his crew set to work on repairs.

While he is an easy target for criticism as the son of a team owner, few - if any - work harder at their craft than the 25-year-old.

If the adage that effort equals results really does ring true, surely it’s only a matter of time before Jones’ fortunes change.

Double Davo

While Will Davison is pressing his case as a genuine contender at the front of the pack, his older brother Alex was a surprise returnee to pitlane at Albert Park.

He was announced on the Wednesday as Team Sydney’s driver for the remainder of the season in place of James Courtney, who had dramatically departed after Adelaide.

Now 40, Alex has not been a Supercars full-timer since 2013 and is under no illusions as to the difficulty of the task at hand in a team still very much finding its feet.

He started his campaign on a respectable note with a pair of 20th place qualifying efforts, under a session format where a single mistake could spell disaster.

Courtney meanwhile was absent from Albert Park but continues to plot a return later in the season via a series of wildcards, backed by Boost Mobile.

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