V8 Things we learned at the Clipsal 500

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 08/03/2016
  • By Bruce Newton

Percat and LDM – a dream result

Nick Percat of Lucas Dumbrell Racing during the Clipsal 500,  at the Adelaide Street Circuit, Adelaide, South Australia, March 06, 2016.

Putting the controversies of the day aside for one moment, it was incredible to have Nick Percat and Lucas Dumbrell come out on top at the Clipsal 500. Yes, the conditions helped them, but no-one would begrudge Percat after such a great drive, nor the team considering how hard it has struggled to become competitive. Bravo Chris Stuckey for recognising the way the race would play out and executing so well. Percat is a huge talent who will become a force to be reckoned with in this championship in years to come. LDM is more of a moot point. For all Lucas’ efforts – and those of Holden’s Simon McNamara, long-time sponsor Phil Munday, former Stone Brothers Engineer Barry Hay and others – the performance needle has moved slowly for this tiny team. Maybe this win is the tonic it needs and more importantly will provide the incentive for extra backers to step forward.

Drop the drop?

Both race control and V8 Supercars came in for a massive sledging on social media after the bedlamic Sunday race. Crazy weather threw the start and the minimum drop refuelling regulations into the spotlight. The sight of teams and officials debating the rulebook live on television after the race started – or hadn’t depending on your interpretation – spoke volumes about the amount of confusion that was abounding. V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton has announced there will be a review of race start procedures and potentially some changes made. But is it also time to do away with fuel drops and mandated fuel stops? After all the rule was introduced because the Nissan and Benzes were sucking too much fuel back in 2013. Well, the Nissans look to be competitive on that score now and Betty has parked the AMGs.

Nissan in action

They were missing in action in previous seasons, but there’s no doubt the factory Nissan Altima squad emerged from the Clipsal 500 looking racy and competitive. Michael Caruso is the first Nissan driver to lead Australia’s premier tin top series since Mark Skaife in 1992. And his team-mates and team owners Todd and Rick Kelly both also featured in the top 10 in qualifying, races and the points score. Yes, the situation was unusual (!) and that helped deliver some of those results, but there’s no doubt the VK56DE engine is no longer an Achilles Heel – any one else notice Todd drag off Garth Tander in Saturday’s first race to defend fifth? With Nissan Australia boss Richard Emery still negotiating a green light to extend the company’s motorsport involvement with Japan, the results couldn’t have come at a better time.

Penske pace

Fabian Coulthard of Team DJR Penske during the Clipsal 500 2016

We thought there would be improvement this year, but even DJR Team Penske would not have expected to snare two of the three poles on offer at the Clipsal 500. It was one for Scott Pye and one for Fabian Coulthard and one on the soft Dunlop tyre and one on the hard. So ultimate pace is good and the drivers are clearly in tune and pushing each other on. But race set-up, strategy and pit work still require some work, as team MD Ryan Story conceded on Saturday after Pye’s chances were stuffed up in race one. Coulthard provided one of the great individual highlights of the weekend with his awesome Armor All top 10 lap on Sunday that catapulted him from fifth to first. He gained his edge in the fastest, bravest part of the track, which only adds to the achievement. The Kiwi looked leaner and fitter than ever at Clipsal, suggesting he’s clearly recognised the size of his opportunity at this team. His driving suggests that also.

Courtney versus Whincup

James Courtney of the Holden Racing Team winner of race 2 of the Clipsal 500,  at the Adelaide Street Circuit, Adelaide, South Australia, March 05, 2016.

Let’s just hope the race two battle we witnessed between factory Holden stars James Courtney and Jamie Whincup on Saturday afternoon is repeated time and again this year. There’s never any shortage of nose-to-tail action in V8 racing, but what lifted this one on to a higher plain was that both drivers and cars were so visibly, clearly and unflinchingly teetering on the edge. That graphic replay of Courtney’s last lap 200km/h turn eight slide said it all. As covered off on Saturday, the Holden Racing Team has made huge engineering changes to its Commodores over the summer including the fitment of South Australian-developed Supashock dampers. Both Courtney and team-mate Garth Tander sincerely believe real progress has been made and that’s potentially great news for the championship. We say ‘potentially’ because we have heard and seen that before at Clipsal of course, so the jury has to stay out for a few more races and some different styles of circuits.

Welcome back Chaz Mostert

Chaz Mostert of Supercheap Auto Racing during the Clipsal 500,  at the Adelaide Street Circuit, Adelaide, South Australia, March 03, 2016.

How we have missed you! A pole position, a podium, a crash at turn eight while in contention for the win on Sunday. Damn, every time this bloke gets in the car he creates headlines. And when he gets out everybody wants to argue about his hair! Chaz, grow it a metre long and plait it for all I care, just keep doing what you are doing! The frightening thing for Mostert’s rivals is that he was a fraction rusty at the Clipsal. Next up is a non-championship ‘training’ weekend at the grand prix. He should be right on top of his game by the time the show hits Tassie for the next championship round. And while we are at, Mostert’s Prodrive team-mate Cam Waters showed enough over the weekend to suggest he has the talent and the grit to make a success of this caper. Not bad at all to crack the Armor All top 10 first time out and finish fourth in the third race of your first full-time season.

Room for Improvement

Every team rolls in to Clipsal with big dreams and plenty roll out of Adelaide with their tail between their legs thinking what a long and hard season this could be. So who would be feeling the pressure already? Brad Jones Racing and Tim Slade spring to mind. This is a team that has showed pace at the Clipsal as recently as last year, but that was notably absent this time round. James Moffat and Volvo have work to do too. So does Will Davison and Tekno. Undoubtedly though, Kiwi Chris Pither blotted his copybook the worst. Wrecking a car at your first outing so it doesn’t even make the main race on Sunday is not the way to start the season. The silver lining in all this is the chance for redemption rolls around every two weeks staring with the AGP. Some other combos also struggled but deserve a bit of think time – Lee Holdsworth and Preston Hire Racing will be be better for the run, Craig Lowndes and TeamVortex had their issues, but were on it by race-time Sunday, defending champion Mark Winterbottom didn’t star, but that’s the same as last year in Adelaide – and looked what happened next…

Take a bow Davey, Campbell, Ryan et al

David Reynolds of Erebus Motorsport V8 during the Clipsal 500,  at the Adelaide Street Circuit, Adelaide, South Australia, March 02, 2016.

Yes, there were circumstances that helped them blah blah blah, but for David Reynolds and Erebus to take fifth on Sunday was incredibly important. It’s results like this that are often pivotal moments in a sports team’s progress. It gives you a hint of just how immense the effort had been just to get to Clipsal that team owner Betty Klimenko thought a top 15 finish would have been pretty good. So well done David Reynolds on a great drive, well done veteran engineers Campbell Little and Mat Nilsson on their roles and well done team boss Barry Ryan who has pulled together a raw, young crew over the summer; some of whom have never even seen a car race before the Clipsal. On the other side of the garage Aaren Russell had a really difficult debut, but when you are a rookie the learning curve is steep and right now the Dunlop series graduate is craning his neck staring up at a mountain.

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