A brave call, influenced by a massive crash in wet weather earlier in the season, outfoxed almost an entire field, and helped Lee Holdsworth to his first V8 Supercar Championship Series win when he took the chequer in the Jim Beam 400 at Oran Park, Sydney, on Sunday.
Holdsworth was already having a brilliant race meeting by working himself into fourth going into the third and final race, but never expected to turn that into his maiden Championship victory.
It was also a watershed for Holdsworth who said after the race that he had only just recovered mentally from a heavy crash at Winton in May.
On that day he was taken to hospital with extremely heavy bruising when he lost control of the car in wet conditions and rear-ended into a wall.
Holdsworth (24) made the call to start last Sunday’s final race on wet tyres while most other drivers stuck to untreaded, slick dry weather tyres.
It was a risk, because had the weather stayed dry he would have been swallowed up by the field. But it turned into a masterstroke as the heavens opened.
“It took me a couple of rounds to get back into the feel of things. I was a little bit timid especially on the wet circuits,” Holdsworth said.
“I felt safer starting on wets and it turned out to be the right decision. I had to get ahead of these guys and I knew I had to pull a gap because there was a chance it could have dried out.
“It’s better than anything else I’ve felt before. I’ve got butterflies in my stomach and just want to get out and celebrate with my team.”
Holdsworth beat Ford Performance Racing’s Steven Richards who was second with Craig Lowndes third in the Vodafone Ford Falcon.
Team Kiwi Racing was delighted with the debut of 18-year-old driver Shane Van Gisbergen, especially in the testing conditions in his first drive in a V8 Supercar.
He was 20th in the first race, 13th in race two and 24th in race three to record championship points for his team on debut.
Best of the New Zealanders was Steven Richards in second – his first podium in a Ford since his switch at the start of the year – with namesake Jason Richards (Tasman Motorsport) seventh, teammate Greg Murphy 18th, Simon Wills (Team BOc Ford) 20th and Fabian Coulthard (Sirromet Wines Holden) 22nd.
“The weather is the great evener in a lot of ways,” said Steven Richards. “You’re driving around there not really knowing what’s going on and just trying to move forward. In some cases, to just survive the changeable conditions.”
In a bizarre start to the final race, almost half the field started from pitlane when they realised their calls to start on slick tyres was the wrong decision.
As the field formed on the grid in drizzling rain to start the race, many of the field filed into pitlane to change tyres.
It meant every one of the cars that went into the pits still had to also perform their compulsory pitstop.
Those who chose to start the race on dry weather tyres also found themselves coming in straight away, leaving Holdsworth out on his own.
One of the remaining cars to start the race on wet weather tyres was Holdsworth, who at one stage had a 45-second lead over the field.
Two safety cars brought the field back to Holdsworth before yet another reduced his lead to four seconds ahead of Tasman Motorsport’s Jason Richards.
It was a stark contrast to Sunday’s first race when Lowndes dominated, coming from 23rd to win. The slippery conditions made for some early exits, including championship leader Rick Kelly who was at the front of an accidental concertina on the first lap.
Holdsworth had finished fourth in the race in his best weekend this year. Shane Van Grisenberg was also mightily impressive in finishing 13th from 20th place.
Mark Skaife won the first race on Saturday.