While Ashley Walsh contests the Dunlop Series, co-driving with Tim Blanchard this year is the first time the Queenslander has been part of the V8 Supercars Championship main game.
The co-driver qualifying race at the Wilson Security Sandown 500 yesterday was Walsh’s first time to take the floor – and it was indeed a challenge for him, after starting 23rd and getting caught up in a tussle that ended unusually.
Walsh was turned around on lap nine, and his Wilson Security Ford Falcon seemed fine. But broken bonnet pins meant shortly after, his bonnet came loose and went flying over the top of the car, burying itself in a sand trap while Walsh limped the damaged vehicle back to the pits, only just able to see and with no communication with his engineer Mark Fenning.
Walsh told v8supercars.com.au the incident scared the hell out of him. But what exactly happened?
“It was pretty spectacular and basically it started when I got a bit of a tap from behind and ended up at the back of the pack,” Walsh explained.
“The safety car came out so I was able to catch back up, then going into the second last corner at the restart. I think it was one of the Jack Daniel's cars that brake-checked Johnny Mac (McIntyre) in front of me. His all fours locked up, I was already braking and couldn’t stop the car any faster.
“I locked up and got up the back of him, which pushed the bonnet up a bit.
“Then I was going down the straight and doing 250 or 260km an hour and it has just had a failure because the bonnet was all pushed up and had broken the pins at the front.
“I was honestly really surprised and just glad that it didn’t crack the windscreen and do more damage.
“Realistically we were probably pretty lucky with the way it went – but it obviously scared the hell out of me.
“I couldn’t see anything and I was actually looking through the little hole in the middle of the windscreen because the part the bonnet bolts to was up and blocking my vision.
“So I was just peeking through a little hole and looking for the ripple strips in the side of the track trying to find my way back without getting in anyone’s way.
“It actually busted the radio on top of the roof as the bonnet peeled off and over the car to I couldn’t hear much at all. I couldn’t hear anything and I couldn’t see anything so I just tried to get it back to the pits.
“It was quite frustrating because my main goal was to just stay out of trouble and give the car back to Tim with no worries."
The car was speedily repaired so Blanchard could head out for the final qualifying session. He managed to make up three positions during the race, to finish 22nd – which is where the pair will start for today’s 500km race.
While it was a tough start to the weekend, the 26-year old main series driver is still hopeful the #17 can garner a good result.
Qualifying has been a bit of an Achilles heel, but Blanchard feels the car's race pace on old tyres is positive.
Teammate Chaz Mostert put in yet another impressive performance with co-driver Dale Wood – the other Wilson Security DJR Falcon begins from fifth.
Stay tuned for this afternoon’s 500km race – following this morning’s 20-minute warm-up at 11.05am AEST – to see who will be victorious in the first race of the PIRTEK Enduro Cup.
Each car is required to make four compulsory pit stops during the race and strategy will play a huge part in determining the winning pairing.
Whincup leads Davison by just 55 points in the Championship – but with nine drivers within 300 points, one race win’s allocation, the Wilson Security Sandown 500 result will have big ramifications on the Championship standings.