V8 Supercars: Vintage victory for veterans Skaife and Lowndes at L&H 500 classic
Phillip Island, Sun 18th – Mark Skaife has forecast a magical Bathurst performance with what he described as an ‘extraordinary’ victory in today’s L&H 500 after another Phillip Island classic.
TeamVodafone pair Skaife and Craig Lowndes dominated for the second year running and later predicted they were in a better position than leading into last year’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, which they won.
With a small slice of luck going their way the veteran pair first warded off a fast-finishing Shane Van Gisbergen in his SP Tools Falcon, stopped only by a late car issue, then holding out team-mate Jamie Whincup (Andrew Thompson) and Trading Post Racing’s FPR pair of Will Davison and Luke Youlden.
“Last year was a fairytale finish and today was just extraordinary,” Skaife said.
“Any time in this series to have a 1-2 finish in such a competitive environment shows the team is working at a very high level. I have definitely pulled up better than last year and its great match fitness. This is the sort of hit-out that I need before Bathurst. (And) I’ll be better at Bathurst because of it.”
Lowndes scored his fourth straight V8 Supercar victory after his clean sweep at all three races in the Coates Hire Ipswich 300 at his last start, staying in touch with leader Whincup in the race for the Championship.
“It’s been a pretty smooth weekend for us as a team, everything we have done has worked. It’s been a big effort from the team all year, not just this weekend,” he said.
“When Shane was closing that gap I radioed in and said I didn’t want to go any faster and burn the tyres and have nothing left to fight if he got to us. He got to about three seconds away but must have had a problem and went backwards as fast as he came up to me. It was a blessing for me, we were pushing as hard as we could.”
Van Gisbergen was absolutely flying and there was little doubt he would catch Lowndes until seven laps to go when he reported a problem back to his team. It was a shame for the young SP Tools Kiwi who was on target for a grandstand finish.
“There’s no way I am coming in” Van Gisbergen blared on the radio at the time.
Whincup and Thompson suffered ultimately from two small setbacks, the first a jammed door, ironically as a result of Skaife hitting Thompson, at a driver change and then having to queue behind their team-mates at a safety car from some wild birds that were on the track.
Lowndes had a furious battle for much of the race with Toll Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander who was in vintage form before falling back through the pack late in the race.
The near miracle of starting from last and finishing first was for a time possible when Tander and Nick Percat made an incredible comeback to lead the race having started from pit lane.
Disaster struck the HRT outfit before the race even began when Percat could not start his car on the front row on the grid as the race was set to go, forcing a flurry of yellow flags and an abandoned started.
“We rolled up to the line like normal and had to move up a little further and stalled it, so that was my fault. I could hear the solenoid clicking and it just wouldn’t start,” Percat said. “I started to drown myself and then recovered.”
As a result and for safety reasons the start was delayed while his team furiously fixed the problem. It is simply too dangerous should a car not be able to get off the line with an entire field behind him.
Under the rules he had to bring the car in and re-started from the pit lane.
After almost 40 laps and once all the initial pit stops had been done Percat had come from last to fourth behind Thompson, Skaife and Youlden. It was a terrific comeback from the impressive rookie given his tragic start to the day.
Earlier tensions flared earlier in the ‘warm-up’ when Lowndes and Van Gisbergen clashed on the track, trading blows and having to be reminded by their teams that it was not a race.
“On the last lap I was coming out of the pits and then Lowndes came and gave me a big hit,” said Van Gisbergen.
“The way he is, he likes to push us young guys around but when you stand up to him he doesn’t like it.
“Some of these older drivers think they can push us young blokes around. You just have to stand up and push back, they respect you a lot more for that and race you harder.”
It was a great shame that Van Gisbergen was unable to have another shot at the end of the race.
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