The Kiwi drivers in the V8 Supercars Championship flexed their muscles at an important time with the upcoming Pirtek Enduro Cup rounds await at Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast.
Meanwhile today’s winner Chaz Mostert has mounted a genuine challenge to his team-mate Mark Winterbottom.
Mostert took a sizeable chunk of points out of Winterbottom’s title lead in a wet finish at Sydney Motorsport Park, making a strong statement in the Pepsi Max Prodrive Falcon.
Jason Bright and team-mate Fabian Coulthard scored a double podium for the Albury-based BJR after a tough few events for both. Coulthard had slipped down the Championship order having been as high as second after the first race in Townsville last month. He is now fifth.
Coulthard led the way for the Kiwis with Shane van Gisbergen in an encouraging fourth after a remarkable drive in the wet and Scott McLaughlin was fifth after starting on pole.
Super Black Racing’s Andrew Heimgartner again qualified well but got the wrong side of the stops for wet weather and had to be content with 20th although he is fast improving.
While Coulthard is now back to fifth and only 160 points off second, van Gisbergen is up to ninth and McLaughlin 11th. If the New Zealanders can navigate their way through the big endurance rounds, they will be in prime position to make a late season charge when the V8 Supercars heads to the sole New Zealand round at the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park in November.
On Friday Mostert was 292 points behind Winterbottom. Now he is just 174 points back. He jumped Craig Lowndes on Saturday and has further stretched that margin.
He has declared all weekend that he and Winterbottom will race to the end. That appears a potential scenario after his team-mate finished the longer race 17 places behind him.
“It’s been a fantastic weekend, finished all the races and got a bank up of points,” Mostert said.
“The enduros are a big part of the Championship so we need to be just as solid there. I’ve got a good co-driver in Cam (Waters) so can’t wait to get to Sandown, it’s one of my favourite tracks.
“I can’t wait to get into it and see where we end up. We just have to be consistent and try to finish races but we’re a team and at the end of the day so if he (Winterbottom) gets it or I get it we’ve done the job for team.
“At the moment I just have to do my thing and keep tracking along and see what we do.”
A heavy mid-race shower threw the race into chaos. It became anyone’s game but Mostert held his cool to maintain his lead while the field slipped and slid behind him.
“I was pretty lucky that these guys beside us (Coulthard and Bright) were banked up a bit in the traffic when the wet weather came down.
“By the time they got around the other guys and started getting on with the job I had a little bit of a gap and was lucky enough to keep it.
“It was just hard being the first guy to reach the rain on the slicks and then to have to drive through it. Just trying to get yourself mentally back on racing line and start using it is a challenge.”
Wet track specialist Shane Van Gisbergen, as predicted, was the standout in the conditions and he tore through the field. It was almost a repeat of his amazing effort at the same track last year when he put on one of the finest displays of wet weather racing ever seen.
But he and third-placed Jason Bright came together on the final lap. Bright subsequently took a short cut to re-join in his original position, claiming he was within his right to assume the place.
“Shane was coming up on us, going into turn four I left him enough room, he obviously came in a bit hot, nailed me in the door and I ended up on the grass,” Bright said.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get off the grass because I was just sitting there spinning for a while. I grabbed the pit lane limiter, putted out of there and had the option of left or right at the intersection. I could see the track left, couldn’t see the track right so I went left.”
Van Gisbergen admitted guilt and apologies for his ambitious move.
“That was my mistake – I went up the inside, it was a bit too wet still, I locked the brake and understeered a bit,” Van Gisbergen said.
“He deserved the podium – I took him out there by accident. The car was not that great in the dry but as soon as it rained it came alive and that saved our weekend.”
The heavens opened up mid-way through the race, and the Red Bulls raced all the way to pit lane as Craig Lowndes tried to avoid the double stack. The field made the switch to wet weather tyres and a new order formed after the stops.
Tickets are now on sale for the sole New Zealand round of the V8 Supercars Championships at the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway on 6-8 November through www.ticketek.co.nz.