Toll HSV Holden Commodore VE driver, Rick Kelly won a shortened third V8 Supercar race at Pukekohe, on Sunday to clinch overall victory in Round 3 of the Australian series.
The race was shortened to meet television scheduling commitments in Australia.
It had been scheduled to start at 3pm and finish at 3.45, but two incidents – both involving deployment of the Safety Car (for a total of nine laps) – meant there was no time to get the 43 laps completed by 3.45pm.
The first was a massive crash on lap six, and the second a late-race collision with the wall atop the Pukekohe hill.
The final race win gave Kelly equal points for the weekend with his teammate Garth Tander who won the first two races.
The Race 3 victory gave Kelly the round win on a countback.
Vodafone Ford Falcon driver Jamie Whincup (above right) was third on points.
Kelly now goes to the Winton, Victoria, round 13 points ahead of Tander, the same margin he came to Pukekohe with.
Had Tander successfully completed a pass on Team Kiwi Racing Ford Falcon driver Paul Radisich on what became the final lap, he would have had enough points to win the round.
But Tander’s hopes of a third race win – and his second successive round victory – had already been dealt a body blow during his compulsory pitstop. He went into the pits in the race lead and came out ninth after a wheelnut jammed.
Rick Kelly now led, from brother Todd (HRT Commodore), James Courtney (Stone Brothers Falcon), Craig Lowndes (Vodafone Falcon), Whincup, Will Davison (Jim Beam Ford), Radisich, Russell Ingall (Caltex Falcon) and Tander.
The top seven didn’t change again and the drivers crossed the line in that order, followed by Tander, Mark Skaife (HRT Holden), and Ingall.
After the pitstops, Tander had worked his way on to the back of Radisich’s Ford, and trailed the all-black car when the race went green with a lap to run.
He closed on Radisich on the run to the hairpin, pushing hard to find a way past; but Radisich is an old Pukekohe hand, and resisted and held on to cross the line seventh.
“We knew we had to get past Paul [Radisich] to claim the win outright,” Tander said. “But I wasn’t aware it was going to be a one-lap dash at the end there.
“I thought it was going to be eight laps and I’d have a crack at [Radisich in that time].
“I was surprised when I came over the line to see the chequered flag. If [I had known it was the last lap] I would have had a bigger go at Paul than I did.”
Seventh-placed Radisich was the best-placed Kiwi, with Greg Murphy (Tasman Motorsport Holden) 11th, and Fabian Coulthard (Sirromet Commodore) 20th. Jason Richards finished 18th in the second Tasman Commodore.
NZ-born Steven Richards (right) was 12th in the FPR Castrol Ford Falcon.
Rick Kelly now leads the championship with 173 points to Tander’s 160.
Tander had closed the gap to Kelly by winning Race 1 on Saturday.
It was his fourth successive Australian V8 Supercar race win after dominating the last round in Perth.
He fought a near race-long battle on Saturday with Ford Performance Racing Falcon driver and pole-winner Mark Winterbottom.
Tander, the early race leader, re-took the lead at the hairpin in the closing laps of the 43-lap race as Winterbottom’s tyres lost their effectiveness.
Despite a clutch which disintegrated on the startline – the cars were held for a long period on the grid – Tander led into the first corner. Winterbottom, starting from pole for the first time and on the greasy side of the track, conceded and slotted in behind.
The order changed at the compulsory pitstop where FPR got Winterbottom back on to the track faster than Tander.
Tander said the stop itself had gone well, but when the car dropped back on to its wheels, it hung up for a few seconds before the damaged clutch bit.
He closed on Winterbottom as the Ford’s tyres lost their grip. He had one look at the hairpin but Winterbottom kept him at bay. He repeated the move on lap 38 and made it stick.
Rick Kelly finished third in the second HSV car after getting the better of Steven Richards in the second FPR Falcon, again as Richards’ tyres lost grip. That allowed first Kelly and then Vodafone Falcon racer Jamie Whincup to get ahead of Richards who finished fifth.
The Ford driver had put up a solid defence before he went off the track to one side and then the other, and Kelly found a way through.
Richards and Whincup then fought side-by-side up the Pukekohe hill before Whincup got ahead.
Todd Kelly brought the #22 Holden Racing Team Commodore into sixth place.
He was one place ahead of Kiwi Jason Richards who drove an excellent race to bring the Tasman Motorsport Commodore through from an 11th place start.
Richards had trailed teammate Greg Murphy in the opening laps: Murphy eventually finished 12th, three places ahead of Radisich’s Falcon which took the final points-scoring position.
Fabian Coulthard was the fourth Kiwi home, in 22nd place in the Sirromet Commodore.
Ingall finished eighth in the Caltex Falcon, one place ahead of Courtney.
The 2006 round winner Skaife completed the top 10 after fighting back from a disastrous pitstop in which a wheelnut got stuck.
Tander overcame two restarts after Safety Car periods to score his fifth successive Australian V8 Supercar win in Race 2.
He started from pole, won the start, but was outbraked by Whincup at the hairpin. Winterbottom ran third.
Tander got past Whincup at the hairpin on lap two, and that almost was that.
He lost the lead during the pitstop shuffle when the FPR team got Winterbottom out first.
But Winterbottom’s lead was short-lived. He slid ahead in a cloud of tyre smoke at the hairpin, after a tyre punctured.
Winterbottom pitted to replace the shredded tyre, and dropped out of contention.
Tander built a six-second lead over Whincup, only to see it vanish when a Safety Car period was declared when Jason Richards slid off the track and into a barrier after the VE’s left-front suspension collapsed.
His retirement dropped one Kiwi out of the top 10, and elevated another, Radisich (below), to 10th place in the TKR Falcon.
Murphy ran 12th in the second MTA Holden, and got ahead of Max Wilson’s Falcon to finish 11th, behind Radisich.
Tander won the restart – and another after Jason Bargwanna parked his WPS Falcon in the barrier at the top of the hill.
Tander went on to win by seven-tenths of a second from Whincup, Rick Kelly, Todd Kelly and Courtney.
Then came Skaife, Lowndes, Davison, Ingall and Radisich. Coulthard was 20th in the Sirromet Commodore.
Steven Richards was 18th in the second FPR Falcon after being punted off the track in the Esses on lap one, and having another off-track excursion later in the race.