Toll HSV Dealer Team’s Garth Tander and Rick Kelly will go into this year’s big endurance races separated by just six points at the top of the V8 Supercar championship leaderboard.
Although the pair endured an indifferent weekend in the Jim Beam 400 at a soggy Oran Park, they and their crews managed to limit the damage with a dogged performance.
Reigning champion Kelly picked up 24 points by finishing ninth for the round – mainly from his second place in Race 1.
Championship leader Tander collected 20 points by clawing his way from the back of the field after a first-race DNF, to second place behind round winner Lee Holdsworth in Race 3. Tander was classified 11th for the round.
Tander carried a 10-point lead over Kelly into Oran Park and left with a six point lead over his teammate, 389 points to 383.
Though third-placed Jamie Whincup closed the gap to Kelly by 12 points, the defending champion still has a handy 66-point buffer over his closest rival.
Kelly and Tander had to battle the elements, uncustomary mechanical hiccups and roughhouse driving in conditions that went from ordinary to worse.
Though Kelly enjoyed a top-three finish in Saturday’s Race 1, Tander saw his weekend crumble when his car’s front suspension broke while he was leading the race, sending him spearing off the track.
The gremlins returned in Sunday morning’s Race 2 as Tander’s car suffered a misfire that forced him to run in the midfield without his usual firepower.
Kelly suffered gremlins of a different kind, being spun three times by rivals. The first and most damaging happened on lap one when Kelly was knocked from the track by Whincup’s Ford Falcon which had, in turn, been rammed by Steven Richard’s Falcon on just the second corner.
Kelly could just sit and watch the field go by as his hopes of a round victory slumped.
In Race 3, Tander and Kelly both lined up on the grid with slick tyres on their Commodores – as did most of the field – but no sooner had the race started than the rain returned.
Tander was called into the pits immediately to change to wet tyres, while Kelly battled on with the slicks until the pit window opened and he pitted for treaded rubber.
Tander and Kelly both avoided numerous incidents, with Tander making the best of it, rising 17 places to finish second.
Kelly ended up 15th adding a couple more points to his season’s tally.
Though the Toll HSV result wasn’t the launching pad that the team desired for the first of the enduros next round at Sandown, it could have been worse.
The team now heads to its test track at Winton to re-group and prepare for Sandown and Bathurst with enduro recruits Craig Baird and Paul Radisich.
“It was disappointing not to score any points in the first two races. Considering all of us had a bad weekend,”Tander said. “It would’ve been a good weekend to capitalised points wise. We stayed out of trouble in that last one and got a second, so I think we were pretty lucky there.
“Now we just sit down and look at how we play it from here for Sandown and Bathurst, and hope we have a better result than last year.”