James Courtney and Jack Perkins came from seemingly nowhere to win a remarkable Sunday race on the streets of the Gold Coast.
The race came down to strategy and fuel saving, a sneaky decision to switch to a three-stopper taking both the Courtney Commodore and the Nissan Altima of Rick Kelly and David Russell from the middle of the pack to the front, after the #888 Commodore and #33 Volvo dominated the first half of the race.
The turning point
The turning point in the race was a Lap 54 Safety Car, called to clear debris. The awkward timing meant the entire field needed to pit to make their second stops, but with the race re-starting on Lap 59 it was a stretch to get to the finish on fuel.
From there, the race split into two groups; the two-stoppers and the three-stoppers. Midfielders James Courtney and Rick Kelly were first to switch to a three, pitting for fuel right before the Safety Car period came to an end.
Eventually, the front-runners began to opt for the more conservative option and pit. First it was Mark Winterbottom two laps after the race went green, followed by the likes of Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen over the next couple of laps.
The #888 then made its stop on Lap 67, handing the lead over to the #33 Volvo for the first time of the day. Five laps later Scott McLaughlin followed suit, slotting back in behind Craig Lowndes.
Crucially, however, the two early leaders – who had controlled the race until that Lap 54 caution – were behind Courtney and Kelly, albeit with a better margin for error on fuel.
In the end, though, that extra fuel didn’t matter. Both Courtney and Kelly did enough to make it to the finish, remarkably finishing first and second.
The win came on Courtney’s comeback to the championship after an enforced break due to injury, and also marked Perkins’s first ever win in V8 Supercars.
“The guys did a cracking job with the strategy,” said Courtney.
“Jack’s done a great job filling in for me. I can’t thank him enough for filling in for me and taking that leadership role. It really paid off today.”
Tander does it different
Garth Tander finished third on a strategy that fell somewhere in between the two. The #2 Commodore didn’t switch until the three-stop until Lap 91, but had done enough with his track position to be able to make that third stop and still slot in ahead of Lowndes and McLaughlin, who were resigned to finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
The podium finish also secured the Pirtek Enduro Cup for Tander and co-driver Warren Luff.
Nissan rolls the dice – big time
The biggest strategic call of the day went to the #23 Nissan. Dean Fiore started the race way back in 24th, with the team opting to leave the co-driver in until Lap 51, rather than swap him straight out on lap 34. The car also switched straight to the soft tyres – all just three laps before that crucial Safety Car period changed the race.
It gave the car track position, the right tyres, and almost enough fuel to make it to the finish, all without having to stop during the SC period.
In the end it took a quick splash-and-dash for Michael Caruso to make the finish, but he still came home 10th, a decent gain on where the car started.
Winterbottom drops more points
While Prodrive did switch the #5 Falcon of points leader Mark Winterbottom and Steve Owen to the three-stopper fairly early, the pair could only manage 11th. That means Lowndes has further closed the gap to the runaway leader, 258 points separating the pair with three rounds to go.
It was another short enduro race for the #34 Volvo, Chris Pither retiring from the race on just Lap 8 after being turned in on by fellow Kiwi Ant Pedersen.
The contact took Pither out of the race, while Pedersen was able to continue despite nosing the Super Black Falcon in to the wall. He did, however, have to serve a drive-through penalty.
“I felt like I was comfortably up inside on that corner,” explained Pither. “I’d had a look two laps prior and I wasn’t, I pulled out. That lap I thought I was comfortably in the gap. I think he just didn’t see I was there and turned in. It’s disappointing.”