KIWI Shane van Gisbergen is ever closer to securing his maiden Supercars Championship after winning a dramatic four-race ITM Auckland SuperSprint at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
Van Gisbergen used the weekend to extend his lead over teammate Jamie Whincup to 191 points with just one round remaining in Sydney next month.
Van Gisbergen also admitted he was teary as he crossed the line in the fourth race of the weekend, knowing he had won the Jason Richards Trophy awarded in memory of the much loved New Zealand racer who died in 2011.
But whilst van Gisbergen was a happy if emotional driver after his triumphant weekend, others were critical of the sprint format employing hard compound tyres and no pit stops leading to processional racing across the Pukekohe weekend.
Passing moves within the leading bunch were rare after the opening lap or so of the four 100 km races.
Drivers and teams have a preference for obligatory pit stops for tyres and fuel as it gives some the chance to go with inventive strategies to move forward.
This, of course, doesn’t help the dearth of overtaking on the track…
With his comfortable points lead, van Gisbergen is now almost certain to win the drivers’ championship. With just 300 points on offer in Sydney, Whincup needs a miracle. Still, he has vowed to keep fighting.
The two Red Bull drivers won a race apiece on Saturday and we were also treated to a couple of laps of torrid and tense high-speed duelling as van Gisbergen and Whincup went at it hard, yet fair, moments after the start of race two. It was precise, centimetre-perfect combat (and respect) rarely seen in touring car racing.
Sunday was not as orderly. And a Ford driver was right in the thick of the action.
Mark Winterbottom, who had been steady without looking to threaten the Red Bull dominance on Saturday, flew off the line in race three, firing past pole man van Gisbergen and fellow Ford driver Scott Pye to take the lead. He went on to take his second win of the season.
Van Gisbergen was complaining about serious understeer and so it was no surprise to watch Whincup close on to the tail of his teammate. An attempt at a pass went wrong when Whincup’s rear tyres just nipped up, sending his tail into the side of van Gisbergen’s Commodore. Both spun on to the grass but quickly resumed.
Van Gisbergen recovered to finish third behind Winterbottom and Pye while Whincup was delivered the further bad news of a drive-through penalty which left him 25th.
Whincup was apologetic and relieved that the incident didn’t trigger an outbreak of hostilities between him and van Gisbergen, or worse, set loose the fabled ire of team boss Roland Dane. Dane was surprisingly sanguine, reflecting that he would have been annoyed had the incident allowed other teams into the fight for the championship.
“My car was quick, and I made the mistake and took out my teammate,” said a candid Whincup. “I have apologised; thankfully it didn’t affect car 97 too much and they got a podium. “
Whincup bounced back spectacularly from his disaster to win the fourth and final race of the weekend, but van Gisbergen grabbed second to secure the Jason Richards Trophy.
“I choked a few tears back knowing I had won the trophy,” van Gisbergen said after his memorable weekend. “I am the first Kiwi to do so. I have such fond memories of JR (Jason Richards), and to do it in front of my home crowd was pretty special. We increased the championship lead, which is a bonus.
“I am in a pretty special place with the car and the team at the moment, I am very lucky.”
Fortunate, perhaps. But luck isn’t delivering van Gisbergen his success. He is driving brilliantly and not making many mistakes.
Webber and Porsche take Six Hours of Shanghai
The Number 1 Porsche 919 Hybrid prototype of Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley has won a conclusive victory – its fourth of the year – in the penultimate round of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the Six Hours of Shanghai.
But the quick Number 6 Toyota of Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi was unlucky not to be right in contention. Just when the Toyota looked very threatening, it was slowed with a puncture 76 minutes from the flag.
The defending drivers’ champs in the Number 1 Porsche controlled the race throughout.
Hartley lost the drag race to turn one at the start, but a crash further back in the pack brought out the safety car and gave the Kiwi the chance to regain the front running.
The only time he and his cohorts were not in the lead was due to slight variations in pit stop strategies.
The only serious concern for the winners was when Hartley, who handled the lion’s share of the driving, had to pit for a new nose section after hitting a large ball of rubber in the second hour.
A day earlier Webber and Hartley combined to take pole from the Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Anthony Davidson/Sebastien Buemi/Kazuki Nakajima and the Audi of Oliver Jarvis, Lucas di Grassi and Loic Duval.
The win to the Webber car and fourth to the #2 Porsche of Neel Jani/Romain Dumas/Marc Lieb means Porsche is the 2016 FIA World Endurance Manufacturer champion.
A bad-news fortnight for Audi got worse during the Shanghai race when its two R18s collided, dropping them way back.
With Toyotas taking second and third, the fight for the drivers’ title will go to the final race in Bahrain, after which Mark Webber will cruise into retirement.
Matt Close takes Targa High Country tarmac win
Victorian Matt Close has taken his Porsche GT3 to outright victory and GT2 competition class honours after a hard-fought battle at Targa High Country, which finished yesterday at the top of Mt Buller.
Close went into the final day with a one second lead over fellow GT2 competitor, Tasmanian Michael Pritchard, driving a Dodge Viper ACR.
Overnight snow on Mt Buller left all competitors – especially those in two-wheel-drive machines – a little apprehensive about the slippery roads.
Close was one to adopt a cautious approach on the wet and slippery run down the mountain, dropping 16 seconds to his rival.
But the Porsche driver hit back on the next stage, speeding into the lead on the 40-kilometre Jamieson test. With his confidence high and hard tyres now working well, Close pushed on to extend his lead on every stage, finishing the three-day enduro 59secs clear of his rival in the V10-engined Viper.
The Shannons Classic GT win went the way of South Australian Craig Haysman in his thumping 1979 Triumph TR7 V8.
Lindsay Stone led from start to finish in a 1985 Mazda RX-7 to top the Shannons Classic competition.
One of the drives of the event came from Alan Roe, who took the Duttons Garage Early Modern honours in a 2000 Mitsubishi Evo 6.5 RS.
In the RDA Brakes GT4 competition, Trevor Macleod had the highly experienced Steve Glenney calling the notes, and they proved a formidable combination in their 2010 Subaru WRX STI.
Anthony Rizzo continued his great form to take a 1977 Subaru WRX STI to victory In the Mansfield Shire GT Sports Trophy.