Tander masters Hamilton streets
Reigning Australian V8 Supercar champion Garth Tander drove a perfect race to win the final Australian V8 Supercar race at the Hamilton 400 last week, and scored a hat trick of victories for the weekend. But it was the performance of two young Kiwis, both rising stars of V8 Supercar racing that had the New Zealand crowd buzzing. Fabian Coulthard finished sixth in race three after some stunning outside line passing moves in Turn 1, and teenaged sensation Shane Van Gisbergen drove from 26th on the grid to a 10th place finish, dicing with and passing two V8 Supercar legends on the way. In taking the race three win, Tander took the round victory and preserved Holden’s unbeaten record in the New Zealand round of the Supercar series. The Toll Holden Racing Team driver won the startline drag race easily to head Stone Brothers Racing’s James Courtney out of Turn 1 after Courtney had passed Steven Richards’ Ford Performance Racing Falcon. There was a Safety Car period before the race was a lap old. Lee Holdsworth bounced off the kerb in the chicane and hit the wall. Kiwis Fabian Coulthard (Glenfords Ford Falcon) and Jason Richards (Tasman Motorsport Commodore) ran sixth and eighth. Richards’ top 10 placing didn’t last long. Shortly after the race restarted, he was hit with a drive-through penalty for tapping Tony D’Alberto’s Commodore and causing it to spin and hit the wall hard. D’Alberto got the car back to the pits but it was judged too damaged to continue.
After another restart, Coulthard was on the move, using an outside pass in Turn 1 to move into fifth place. As the cars made their compulsory pitstops, Shane Van Gisbergen who had started the Stone Brothers Falcon 26th, stayed out almost to the end of the pitstop window and led the race for several laps. For a few laps Team Kiwi Racing driver Kayne Scott ran second in the all-black Falcon before he too pitted. The race ended heart-breakingly for Scott when the steering broke and the car slid over the inside of the Ford Sweeper and hit the wall – with two laps to run, and Scott in 19th place. There was little bodywork damage to the Falcon.
When Van Gisbergen pitted the leaderboard went into its real order, with Tander leading, from Richards, who had got ahead of Courtney with a faster pitstop, and Courtney. Van Gisbergen came out of the pits just as multiple V8 Supercar champion and Australian motorsport legend Mark Skaife came down pit straight in the second HRT Holden. As Skaife bore down on the young Kiwi, Van Gisbergen refused to yield. But Skaife soon found a way past. “I came out of the pits and Skaife was alongside me,” Van Gisbergen said. “He got me in the next corner.” But the determined 18-year-old wasn’t going to let anyone’s legendary status cow him. He fought back, rounding a corner side-by-side with Skaife and putting himself in the prime position, on the inside line, for the next corner. He darted inside Skaife, then drove away, to cheers from the packed grandstands. Van Gisbergen’s take on that? He’d been so busy just racing the car that had just passed him that what had had done simply didn’t register. “I don’t remember that,” a bemused Van Gisbergen said in response to a question about how it felt to dice with and beat a racing legend. But more was to come as the race entered the closing laps.
Van Gisbergen was now running 13th and the race went yellow as Paul Dumbrell hit the wall after contact with Cameron McConville.
In front of Van Gisbergen now was another V8 Supercar legend and former champion, Russell Ingall, who was 11th. That became 10th when McConville headed for pitlane to serve a controversial drive-through penalty for the incident with Dumbrell. That elevated Craig Lowndes (Ford) into seventh place behind Coulthard (Mark Winterbottom had got ahead of Coulthard during the pitstops), and Van Gisbergen now had a sniff of getting into the top 10. He moved closer and closer and then ran side-by-side with The Enforcer as they crossed the start/finish line. They went through Turn 1 and as they headed for Turn 2, Van Gisbergen went past Ingall on the inside line and took 10th place. Dicing with Ingall and passing him; passing two legends in the space of a few minutes? “Passing Russell was pretty cool,” said the modest teenager. He was now running 10th, and that’s where he finished. Finishing 10th in a V8 Supercar race? “Really cool. It’s something to smile about for the weekend” But Van Gisbergen is not one to rest on his laurels, even if he’d made his way from 26th on the grid. “I should have been within the top 10, if not the top five. “It’s awesome to be there (dicing) with those guys.”
Tander won, from Steven Richards, Courtney, Rick Kelly, Winterbottom, Coulthard, Lowndes, Steven Johnson, and Andrew Jones.
Tander won the round, from Richards, Courtney, Rick Kelly and Coulthard. Tander had started his winning streak on Saturday afternoon, taking victory in the first race of the three-heat Hamilton 400. The Holden Racing Team Commodore driver took a measured victory over Rick Kelly’s HSV Commodore. Steven Richards finished third in the Castrol Falcon. New Zealand-born Richards had started from pole and won the start to lead into the first corner. He and the front bunch got through cleanly, but behind them there was a multi-car crash, in which Greg Murphy’s Tasman Motorsport Holden Commodore was spun by Mark Skaife’s HRT car. It was the beginning of a horror weekend for the Tasman Motorsport driver which saw him eventually finish the round in 27th place. In the ensuing mayhem, Russell Ingall’s Commodore was pushed into the wall and Steven Johnson’s Jim Beam Falcon was also spun up. Ingall, Johnson and Jack Daniel’s Racing’s Shane Price (Commodore) were all out of the race by the end of lap one.
The race’s decisive moment came when Richards locked a brake and ran wide at Turn 5 after a Safety Car period, and Tander and Kelly surged past. Murphy lost more time when the pit crew dropped the car off the jack before a wheel change had been completed and had to jack the car back up.
His teammate Jason Richards, who had started 25th after breaking a shock absorber in the chicane during the first qualifying period, lost time having to serve a drive-through penalty. In the opening laps, Coulthard and Van Gisbergen, ran eight and ninth.
After the pitstops, Skaife – who hadn’t pitted – led the race for several laps, from Tander, Kelly and Richards. Tander resumed the lead when Skaife pitted, and the front-running order remained static with Kelly unable to catch Tander and Richards unable to catch Kelly. James Courtney finished fourth after changing an engine in his Stone Brothers Racing Ford overnight after the block split.
Lee Holdsworth (Commodore) was fifth, ahead of Cameron McConville (Holden). Coulthard had a relatively lonely race to seventh in the Glenfords Falcon and was first Kiwi to finish, one place ahead of Jack Daniel’s Racing’s Todd Kelly. It was a fine finish to a strong showing by the Aucklander who had put his car into the top 10 shootout and qualified 10th. Van Gisbergen had been closing in on Kelly with only a handful of laps left to run when his Stone Brothers Falcon slowed with a front tyre problem – it had punctured after he hit the spike holding the tyre on the final kerb of the chicane. He pitted and it was changed and he finished 21st. Kayne Scott brought the underdog Team Kiwi Racing Falcon home a creditable 17th. Tander struck the double when he won the second heat on Sunday afternoon. Tander, starting from pole after winning the first heat, led the race virtually from start to finish. The Holden Racing Team Commodore driver lost the lead only when he made his compulsory pitstop, but retained his relativity to his nearest rivals Rick Kelly (HSV Commodore) and Steven Richards. When the whole field had cycled through its stops, Tander was back at the head of the pack. But during those stops, Kiwi sensation Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford Falcon) had several minutes of glory, leading his first-ever V8 Supercar race till he, too, made his pitstop. Tander had won the startline drag race with Kelly, with Steven Richards (FPR Ford) and Courtney (Stone Brothers Racing Falcon) slotting in behind the two Holdens. In the compulsory pitstops, FPR got Richards back on to the track in front of Kelly. Courtney and Todd Kelly (Jack Daniel’s Commodore) both got ahead of Kelly’s HSV Holden but Todd had a brush with the wall and finished 19th. The race ran for 24 laps before there was a Safety Car period, bunching the field. In the closing laps, Lee Holdsworth and Cameron McConville, both in Commodores, passed Rick Kelly. Tander won, from Steven Richards and Courtney, followed by Holdsworth, McConville and Rick Kelly. Murphy’s day took a turn for the worse when he pitted with an apparent steering problem after clipping the final kerb in the chicane and going up on to two wheels. Best-placed New Zealander during the early running was Coulthard in the Glenfords Falcon. He had finished seventh in heat one, and was running eighth, just ahead of FPR’s Winterbottom in race two. Winterbottom got past him mid-race, and held the advantage till the finish, coming home seventh, with Coulthard eighth. Tasman Motorsport’s Jason Richards turned in an excellent drive in his Holden Commodore, working his way from 20th on the grid to finish 10th. Van Gisbergen had been similarly effective, working his way steadily forward and had been running 12th, just behind Richards, when he slowed and pitted apparently after hitting the chicane.
The Stone Brothers team got him back on track, and he was classed as 26th finisher, six laps down and one place behind Murphy.
The V8 Supercars’ first visit to Hamilton had produced the exciting racing predicted. Tander had simply been too good for the opposition, backed perfectly by slick pitwork from the HRT crew. Steven Richards had given his team a solid result, though he said he had no real answer for Tander. His only regret was the brake lock-up which cost him the lead in race one. But for the Kiwi race fans, the real pride came from the performances of two rising stars, Fabian Coulthard and Shane Van Gisbergen. Coulthard had said before the weekend that he believed the one-car Glenfords Falcon team had the potential to do well at Hamilton, especially as for the first time ever it would be starting on an even footing with the top teams – no-one had any real data nor knew what to expect at Hamilton. He said his goal was to get into the top 10 shootout – and he did.
Then he went out and locked down three excellent finishes that netted him fifth place overall for the weekend, behind Tander, Steven Richards and Rick Kelly who were all driving for established star teams. Coulthard is now out to capitalise on the team’s new-found and hard-won confidence. Van Gisbergen had left on-track commentator Paul Marinelli enthusing that a new star had been born and predicting that he would become one of V8 Super racing’s stars. But Stone Brothers’ co-owner, Ross Stone, added a note of realism and gave an indication that the Manukau City teenager is still serving his apprenticeship. He saluted the 10th placing in race three but said that Van Gisbergen’s overall result for the weekend “wasn’t what we wanted.” The battles with Skaife and Ingall? “Every race you do, you learn more and more.” Shane’s father, Robert, walking across the paddock from the grandstands after race one, was justifiably proud of what he’d seen his talented son do up to that point, but disappointed that with just a few laps to run Shane had picked up a puncture when he was headed for a good placing. “He was reeling in some fast lap times. He’d been seven seconds behind Todd Kelly and he reeled him in. “He was outstanding in qualifying (Shane had been in the top 10 till near the end of the 20-car run-off for the top 10 before he was bumped.
That session – won by Greg Murphy in the brightest moment of a character-building weekend – was cut short after then series-leading Jamie Whincup’s Falcon was hurled into the wall after being tapped by Todd Kelly’s Holden which was regaining the track after a minor off. The damage to Whincup’s Vodafone Falcon was so ever that he didn’t start any of the races. Officials decided to call off the session – which still had two and a half minutes to run – and Van Gisbergen didn’t get a chance to get himself back into the top 10 for the shootout. Robert said Shane had been “disappointed. The red (flag ending the session) came out just as he had fitted wet weather tyres. “He had been running in the top 10, sixth fastest, on slicks on a wet track. “That was a stunning effort.”
Who could argue with that? What had happened to cause Shane to pit in the closing laps of race one, I wanted to know. “I don’t know,” Van Gisbergen senior replied. “I haven’t spoken to him yet, I’m just on my way over to the pits now.” No motor racing father trying to throw his weight around here. He knows his son’s capabilities and that his career is in good hands with the no-nonsense Stone brothers who have taken so many young hopefuls on to V8 Supercar stardom. And on the indications so far, that stardom will come for Shane Van Gisbergen in spades; and giving him plenty of challenge in the battle to be the best of the young Kiwi V8 Super newcomers will be Fabian Coulthard. New Zealand V8 Supercar fans have never had it better – established case Murphy, Jason Richards, NZ-born Steven Richards (no relation) and now rising stars Coulthard and Van Gisbergen. And then there’s the perennial underdog Team Kiwi Racing and the determined Kayne Scott who will only get better as the season progresses and the al-new team personnel start to really gel.