V8 Supercars: Reighning Champion Courtney battles for his first win of season
Abu Dhabi, Sat Feb 12th – Safety cars, strategy and fuel. These were the three critical factors that led to an amazing finish to the Yas V8 400 in Abu Dhabi, the first race of the 2011 V8 Supercar Championship, and current Champion James Courtney’s first win of the year.
Amid scenes reminiscent of last year’s incredible finish to the Armor All Gold Coast 600, Toll Holden Racing Team’s Courtney and Team BOCs Jason Bright went wheel to wheel for the last laps, the lead changing three times in as many corners at one stage.
It was Courtney’s first win for his new team after a terrible previous day including a 50-point penalty, a brilliant podium to Bright and a third to current Championship leader Jamie Whincup who tore through the field from the back in the final stint.
Several accidents, the most notable on the first lap, led to strategy chaos and fuel loads that were all over the place. At one stage Courtney appeared as though he was going to run out of fuel and give Bright Team BOCs first ever victory.
Courtney survived to claim the race win by the skin of his teeth, trying desperately to save fuel but dice with Bright in the closing laps.
“It was a tough slog after yesterday,” Courtney said.
“We had to do a bit of re-grouping and pick ourselves up again. It’s a credit to the team, that’s the reason I went there. It had all the ingredients but just maybe needed a bit of a changeup.
“We knew it was going to be tight on fuel so we took it real easy. Brighty wanted to race which I didn’t really want to do but it was great fun dicing with no fuel.
“It proves that this place is a great place to race. It was wheel to wheel for three laps and one of the best races I’ve had in V8 Supercars. This is what we as a Championship show the world, the best racing you would ever see.”
Bright and his team could smell a race win with the hugely respected Holden driver saying to Courtney out of the car ‘you could have at least given me one’ as they celebrated the amazing finish.
“We were in better shape than James I thought,” Bright said. “We were as lean on fuel as we could be. We were doing everything to save fuel as well as trying to catch him.
“I thought we’d be able to pull away if we got the racing line but we both spent so much time side by side you couldn’t. It was such a great battle and something I really enjoyed. (And) I don’t think we touched once the whole time.”
The strategy plans went out the window on the very first lap with a major incident that led to a lengthy safety car.
The spectacular corkscrew around the back of the track claimed victims of lap one with a pileup of more than six cars, seemingly sparked by Wilson Security Racing’s Tony D’Alberto when he clipped Lucky Seven’s Tim Slade.
With cars three wide and stacked around the corner there was nowhere for many to go. The victims were Toll HRTs Garth Tander, Slade, D’Alberto and Todd Kelly – the only one who got back to the pits.
“I was in the middle of the pack,” Tander said. “We got through yesterday when everyone was smart about it but we weren’t so smart today.”
As that unfolded Whincup led from the starting grid but was unable to get away this time under the Pedders Safety Car. Orccon Steel’s Mark Winterbottom got past TeamVodafone Armor All pole sitter Craig Lowndes from the start while Courtney snuck into fourth before the accident happened.
The long safety car had many of the leaders pull in for one of their pit stops on lap five where Winterbottom took the lead.
His lead lasted only moment from the restart when he went wide on turn one allowing Whincup to pass around the outside on the main straight and Dick Johnson Racing’s Steven Johnson to pounce up the inside and take the lead from both of them. But Johnson (18th) hadn’t stopped so strategy was going to dictate where he would rejoin.
For the second time in the race Winterbottom passed Whincup in the pits but faced an anxious wait having crossed into pit lane illegally on entry. Their stops also left them midfield at the restart but at least with enough fuel to get to the end.
Winterbottom was soon after given a pit lane drive-through for the mistake. It was another mistake from the FPR team after they also lost out with a bad stop. He scrambled to finish 14th.
David Reynolds (Stratco Racing) scored his best race result, finishing fourth. Michael Caruso (Fujitsu Racing), Jonathon Webb (Mother Energy Racing), Alex Davison (Irwin Racing), Shane van Gisbergen (SP Tools Racing), Greg Murphy (Pepsi Max Crew) and Paul Dumbrell (Bottle-O Racing) rounded out the top ten.
Whincup leads the championship on 279 points from Alex Davison (234) and Shane van Gisbergen (210).
The Championship resumes at the traditional Australian opener at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide next month.