Brodie Kostecki and David Russell finished second on Sunday
Kostecki dominated lead-up to race with crushing Shootout win
Strategy call, car problems in penultimate stint consign #99 to second
Brodie Kostecki conceded a maiden Mount Panorama victory appeared a mountain too far to climb after a mid-race strategy gamble, before car troubles stunted his efforts.
Kostecki and David Russell were the ones to beat in the #99 Coca-Cola Camaro, with the former crushing the field by nearly 0.5s in Saturday’s Shootout.
Russell was beaten to Turn 1 by Jamie Whincup, but clever work by the Erebus Motorsport pit wall got the #99 back to the lead as Triple Eight double-stacked its two cars during the first Safety Car.
The race-winning #97 of Shane van Gisbergen/Richie Stanaway got ahead during the next round of stops, before the third Safety Car period on lap 71 changed the race.
As the #97 came in, the #99 stayed out. Russell assumed the lead, but with the #97 just behind in the train, the pole-sitters were on the back foot on strategy.
“I sort of knew when we didn't take that Safety Car and [the #97] got 13 seconds of fuel on us, and Richie was able to restart only two or three places behind D-Russ, I knew it was going to be pretty hard from there-on out,” Kostecki said.
“[The #97] were pretty much the class of the field all day and were the fastest cars in race trim. We still had to have a perfect race to beat those guys and they did an awesome job.”
Kostecki got in the car on lap 90, but Stanaway ran seven laps longer and the #97 spent less time in the lane, handing van Gisbergen a six-second lead.
That became 10 seconds before the penultimate stops; by then, Kostecki encountered handling issues which rectified during the final stint.
“I was never going to win the race from where I was… I was worried the second-last stint, I thought the thing was falling apart, to be honest,” he said.
“I don’t know what happened, but I put a set of tyres on and I was flat-out doing [2:10s]. I felt like an absolute wobbler out there.
“Obviously we pitted again for the last stint, and was hoping for a Safety Car and didn't want to use too much of my tyre, but the car felt normal again.”
The #99’s race engineer, George Commins, conceded the strategy call could have been different, but was adamant the #97 had the ultimate pace to win the race.
“Ultimately, I don’t think we would’ve had the car [to beat the #97],” Commins told the Schick Cool Down Lap podcast.
“That cost us around 13, 14 seconds which was sort of our cut-off time for the Safety Car.
“It was a 50-50 call, in hindsight we certainly should’ve at least split the cars, but we didn't take it.
“But ultimately, between some issues in pit lane and ultimately one or two tenths of absolute pace cost us in the end.”
Kostecki’s lead over van Gisbergen was reduced from 155 to 131 points with 600 remaining in the final two rounds, which are at street circuits.
For Kostecki, now, the job is simple with the Gold Coast and Adelaide ahead: “Try and win the next four races, that’s pretty much it.”