Saturday’s Race 9 at the OTR SuperSprint will go down as a milestone day for Andre Heimgartner, who claimed his first ever Supercars win.
The Bend Motorsport Park was Heimgartner’s playground for the day, with the Kelly Grove Racing driver sailing to pole before crossing the line nine seconds ahead of his closest rival.
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As such, for a driver who had to wait nearly seven years and 161 race starts to claim victory, Heimgartner had to pass a number of key tests to join the winners’ list.
Take pole position: passed
Saturday’s pole wasn’t Heimgartner’s first pole position; last July, he scored pole at Sydney Motorsport Park. However, that day, he finished second behind Jack Le Brocq, Heimgartner failing to convert pole to victory.
On Saturday, Heimgartner’s dry pace was proven in Practice 2; however, his dominance in wet qualifying, with just three drivers within a second of his pole time, showed just how on song the Kiwi was.
Win the start: failed
The only test he failed was winning the run to Turn 1, with Chaz Mostert leading the field into the first corner.
Heimgartner and Mostert enjoyed an equal jump, but the latter had bolted into a clear lead well before the first turn.
Lead the first lap: passed
Mostert’s lead only lasted until Turn 5, after an error allowed Anton De Pasquale into the lead.
De Pasquale then bowled a wide at Turn 6, enabling Heimgartner to regain the lead he lost in the opening seconds.
Build lead to avoid undercut: passed
From there, Heimgartner eked out a lead which would win him the race; by the end of lap 6, he was 6.6s ahead of Mostert.
By the time of his compulsory pit stop at the end of lap 7, Heimgartner had created a strong gap.
Critically, the undercut didn’t pose a threat, with Mostert following him into the lane on the same lap. On the previous lap, Shane van Gisbergen lost nearly 10 seconds following a drama with the air spike in his stop.
Keep up the pace: passed
It was in the stop itself where Heimgartner’s race could have unravelled; he was released into the path of Jamie Whincup, with the resultant contact seeing the #7 slapped with a five-second penalty.
Whether or not Heimgartner was told by engineer Dilan Talabani he had to build a gap was irrelevant; after the race, Heimgartner himself admitted he knew a penalty was coming as soon as he felt the contact with Whincup.
He left the lane with a four-second gap to Mostert, and needing at least five seconds to guarantee victory, Heimgartner set about rebuilding a gap.
Like Mostert did in the Tasmania finale, Heimgartner was peerless in clean air.
The lead, in the closing laps, blew out to over nine seconds, with the official margin 8.9s when Heimgartner crossed the line.
Take the win: passed
Therein lies the biggest and most significant test; actually winning the race.
Last July, Heimgartner got a great start and managed to hold the lead comfortably.
After his stop, Heimgartner re-joined the race on cold softs, just behind Le Brocq, whose green tyres were already warmed up with more grip.
He was unable to clear Le Brocq for victory, but managed to hold off David Reynolds and Todd Hazelwood.
He also claimed a Tailem Bend podium last year, but it wasn’t the victory he so sorely craved.
On Saturday, he ticked all the boxes, making the most of strong car pace in wet and dry conditions, and over one-lap and race pace.
It was a far cry from his Symmons Plains weekend, where he recorded finishes of 22nd, 10th and 22nd.
“I’m absolutely over the moon,” he said.
“It was so so cool to be fastest in qualifying and take pole, that’s always a cool thing, but then to convert that is easier said than done.
“In the race, the car was amazing and I am so happy to come away with the win.
“I’m really relieved. It’s been a long time that we’ve been trying, myself and the team have spent a long time trying.
“I’ve been with the team for four years now and its great to finally pay them back.
“I’m really happy, kind of like a kid in a candy store in some ways, I don’t know what to do or what to say.
"I’m all over the shop, can’t wait to get back to the boys and chill out tonight and then go again tomorrow.”
The Repco Supercars Championship field will return on Sunday for Race 10 qualifying at 9:40am AEST. Check out the full weekend schedule here.
The OTR SuperSprint will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo with highlights on 7 and 7 Plus.