SORRY Supercars, CAMS and race teams. Not good enough. An organisational disgrace. More than that, where was the duty of care to drivers during the weekend’s two championship events at Phillip Island?
During Saturday’s 250km ”race disgrace” 13 drivers experienced frightening high-speed tyre explosions, with most while entering the swoopy right-handed Doohan Corner. A tyre test with Dunlop had been planned for Phillip Island, but was rained out, meaning teams went into the race weekend with no data on the new-for-2017 tyres. A very scary fail.
Lap record pace, an increase in peak loads on the new tyres and aggressive negative camber settings and pushing the boundaries of low tyre pressures created a tough environment for the supplier of the control rubber…
If the epidemic of failures didn’t threaten to turn the contest into a farce, the unexpected pit-lane penalties applied after inconsistent trial-by-TV-replays certainly did. Eight drivers were pinged with 15-second penalties applied either at pit stops during the race or after the chequered flag. These were stupidly harsh; a firing squad for a parking offence.
Okay, now let’s bring up a few realities. Before the racing, a bulletin from the stewards to the teams spelt out the protocols for the pit lane relating to avoiding early crossing of the dotted delineation line down the middle of a rather narrow path between the garages and the Armco barrier. There had been issues previously in the lane at Phillip Island and the stewards rightly wanted to minimise risk.
But it seemed many teams didn’t pass on this vital piece of info to the drivers. Clearly a massive fail. And according to some drivers, nor was this key safety reminder raised at the drivers’ briefing. Another fail.
Most aggravating though for the competitors was the uneven, chook-lotto approach to determining which drivers crossed the centre line at the entry to pit lane. The guilty eight were pinged wholly by Supercars TV cameras showing some cars entering the pits. But only some cars.
Did the stewards go back through all the in-car camera footage to determine who else may have infringed? If they didn’t, then this was a strange idea of justice, seemingly reliant on two or three brief passages of TV footage.
Surely there was a serious safety implication in this reminder about the pit lane entry regulation. Why, then, wasn’t a judge of fact stationed there? Another fail.
For Sunday, at least a witch’s hat stood mute guard at the pit entry. It should have been there on Saturday, but wasn’t. Would have prevented a lot of unnecessary aggravation. Ooh, I can’t keep up with the list of fails.
Through all the head-scratching embarrassment for Australia’s premier motor racing category, Shell V-Power Racing Team’s Fabian Coulthard claimed the Supercars championship points lead by winning Saturday’s 250km contest.
Coulthard, who started alongside his teammate and pole winner Scott McLauglin, himself experienced tyre failure in the 19th lap (whilst leading), but fought back to claim his second race victory in a row (following his victory at Symmons).
Red Bull Holden’s Jamie Whincup was second while Garth Tander scragged his first podium of 2017 coming in third in his GRM Holden.
“Our car didn’t have the ultimate speed but its consistency was incredible. I was surprised at the speed we had,” Tander said. He, like most of the others, were tippy-toeing in tyre conservation mode.
Coulthard’s win was the first at Phillip Island for a Ford driver since Will Davison claimed victory in 2012.
Davison was back in action after being hospitalised in that bruising, belting multi-car shunt in Tasmania two weeks earlier.
Among those forced to serve 15 second penalties were McLaughlin, Craig Lowndes and Shane van Gisbergen. Lowndes and team owner Roland Dane were ropeable over the penalty that was applied to car 888 retrospectively.
After this debacle, officials introduced some measures for Sunday including higher minimum tyre pressures (up to 19 psi from 17) and recommended more conservative camber settings (six degrees and three degrees front and rear, respectively).
Still, on a track with eight left-hand turns, there were blowouts – right rears with some, and right fronts on others. The Triple Eight Commodores – all of which escaped deflating tyres on Saturday, strangely struck tyre issues and finished down in the field on Sunday.
Supercheap Auto Racing Team's Chaz Mostert took victory in the second and final 250km race breaking an almost two-year drought between race victories.
The 25-year-old was fast and smooth, taking care of his fragile rubber while staying in command. But the recent memory of two blown tyres 24 hours earlier wasn’t far from his mind.
Mostert’s Ford Prodrive teammate, Mark Winterbottom, followed him across the line with David Reynolds recording his first podium finish of the season, grabbing a strong third for Erebus Motorsport Holden.
“It’s been long enough,” said Mostert, whose last championship win was at Sydney Motor Sport Park in 2015.
“It means a lot to win straight away after making a couple of mistakes in Tassie.
“There was always the worry about what happened yesterday but I just thought to myself you know the guys back in the garage have given me the best car they can come up with and the best thing is to look after these tyres.”
Reynolds says his Holden felt great over the final laps of the race as he powered to his first podium finish of 2017.
"We have had a massive learning curve last year and it’s just going from strength to strength," he said.
James Moffat, Lee Holdsworth, Cameron Waters, Garth Tander, Dale Wood, Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso made up an unusual-looking top 10.
“It was 250 kays of Russian roulette,” suggested Moffat wryly. “I was pretty uneasy doing it like this.”
The Saturday race winner Coulthard, was prominent until penalised for ignoring the red light exiting pit lane. Teammate McLaughlin, the fastest on track, led early but fell victim of pit strategy and then lost more time with flapping rear bodywork.
Coulthard now leads the Supercars Championship points table seven up on defending champion Shane van Gisbergen, who like his Triple Eight teammates suffered a tyre failure on Sunday. The Sunday victory has catapulted Mostert into third in the overall standings, 30 behind SVG and eight ahead of fourth-placed Whincup.
This was not a great weekend for Supercars.
Molly Taylor takes wild west rally win for Subaru
Defending champ Subaru do Motorsport’s Molly Taylor has taken out both heats of the Forest Rally, in Western Australia, round two of the 2017 CAMS Australian Rally Championship.
Taylor and co-driver Bill Hayes enjoyed a trouble-free run across the slippery forest stages aboard the Les Walkden Rallying-prepared WRX STI, bagging maximum points to elevate the team to second spot in the championship standings after two rounds.
After consistent second places on the first three stages of Sunday’s heat, Taylor hit the front when Eli Evans rolled his Peugeot out of contention.
A puncture for Toyota driver Harry Bates pushed the young Canberra star back to fourth overall, leaving Taylor with a 22.5 second buffer to second-placed Nathan Quinn’s Mitsubishi Lancer.
Following his second place at the Eureka Rally championship opener, Quinn now sits six points ahead of Taylor and a further 12 points ahead of Toyota Genuine Parts’ Bates in the series standings.
Saturday’s opening heat was a nail biter, with Taylor edging her good mate Bates in a tight see-sawing tussle.
A margin of just 3.1 seconds separated the two young guns at the heat one finish.
Evans led early but couldn’t hold out Taylor and Bates after sensor issues with his Peugeot. After rectification, Evan came on strongly in the afternoon, finishing fifth on Saturday.
But it was a huge weekend for Taylor and Hayes.
“We’ve combined car reliability with our own ability to achieve the perfect result,” Taylor reported.
“It’s been a fantastic competition with Harry, Eli and Nathan and to come out on top after such a close fight feels great."
Veteran co-driver Hayes, a West Aussie, said: “I’ve been rallying here since 1998 and this is the first time I’ve won at my home event, so it’s special in many ways.”
Marquez score first MotoGP win of the season in Austin
Marc Marquez has raced away to his first win of the 2017 MotoGP world championship, extended his perfect record at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas to five in a row.
Marquez, who made a shaky start to his title defence, was impeccable in Texas, relinquishing the lead early to team-mate Dani Pedrosa before taking control on lap nine of 21 to take victory by 1.8 seconds.
On Saturday, Marquez extended his record of most pole positions in motorcycle grand prix history across all classes, taking the 67th pole in career (his 39th in the MotoGP class, and his fifth in a row at Austin).
Maverick Vinales, the winner of the opening two races of the season, suffered his first loss as a Yamaha rider after falling from fourth early in the race.
Teammate Valentino Rossi now leads the world championship standings after passing Honda’s Dani Pedrosa to claim second. Rossi kept second place although hit with a 0.3sec post-race penalty for cutting the track after a tight moment with Johann Zarco, who went on to finish fifth.
Australian Jack Miller had another good result, taking 10th on his Marc VDS Honda. He was just half a second behind Jorge Lorenzo, still not looking comfortable on the works Ducati.
Miller’s teammate Alex Rins missed the race after suffering a broken wrist on Saturday.
Will Power’s IndyCar bad luck continues
Will Power’s shocking start to 2017 looked set to be overturned as the Queenslander led for two-thirds of the IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Alabama.
But a deflating tyre sent the Queenslander tumbling down to a 14th place finish as his teammate, Josef Newgarden, swept to his first win as a Penske driver ahead of Ganassi’s Scott Dixon.
Power, who earlier won his 46th Indy pole position, has the pace, but not the luck.