Red Bull Complete Tasmania White-Wash While Andre Heimgartner Impresses
Red Bull Racing (RBR) Australia have ended round two of the 2015 V8 Supercar championship with three more race wins to their credit. But it was Craig Lowndes who shone on the track, and not reigning champion Jamie Whincup.
Following the signing of New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen to RBR for 2016, the future of Lowndes's position in the team was under the spot-light. However a sweep of the three qualifying sessions and two dominant victories in the opening two races of the Tyrepower Tasmania SuperSprint weekend ensured silence from his doubters.
The first two races (both 25 laps long) were simple lights to flag wins for the 5 time Bathurst 1000 champ, with nobody else able to match his speed at the front of the field.
Lowndes looked poised to sweep the weekend and win race three as well. But after the Red Bull driver pitched Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) pilot David Reynolds into a spin on the first lap, he received a pit-lane drive-through penalty. Following the set-back, Lowndes was able to fight his way through the field. Setting the fastest lap and making a variety of fierce moves on his rivals, Lowndes came from the tail of the field to finish the race in a stunning 6th.
"We threw it away. We got a bad start, the clutch went away from us which wasn't nice. But then we held a bit of overlap [with Reynolds], I was probably a bit too aggressive there," said Lowndes.
"I copped the penalty, it was deserving. We have a fast car, that's the one thing we take out of the weekend."
Luckily for RBR, Jamie Whincup was there to pick up the pieces in the final race. After taking the lead from Lowndes, Whincup never let it go apart from during the two pit-stop cycles in the longer 84 lap race. A clinical 3 second win over an improved PRA Chaz Mostert was the result.
Whincup's consistent weekend, which also included 7th and 2nd place finishes in the first two races promoted the 32 year old to the lead of the championship points standings. James Courtney still holds down second, but is now 19 points behind.
"[It wasn't a] bad weekend, we were still there or thereabouts. I can't believe it, standing on top of the podiu
m. I'm really really happy," said Whincup.
"We had an absolute thumper here last year, and we thought 'how the hell are we going to be able to repeat that?' But, we've managed to do so."
Shane van Gisbergen was the leading Kiwi driver, a fourth place finish in race one and a third in race three solidifying his slot in the championship top five. But the Tekno Autosport driver was still disappointed with his podium at the end of race three.
"The hard tyre killed us. We lost so much [time] in the middle stint. At the end we were just saving tyres in case there was a safety car," said van Gisbergen.
But the Kiwi hero of the round was young Andre Heimgartner. Driving for the new PRA-based Super Black Racing squad in his first ever drive at the Symmons Plains circuit, Heimgartner was a revelation all weekend. On board his new Falcon, Heimgartner was on the pace from the first practice session - qualifying 11th, 5th and 7th respectively for the three races.
Following encouraging on track battles with fellow NZ SuperTourer drivers Tim Slade, Dale Wood and Polestar's Scott McLaughlin, Heimgartner finished race three in a stellar 8th. The first top ten for the team after a difficult opening account at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
"I am so stoked with the result. It was a challenging and long race but I learnt a hell of a lot and couldn’t have asked for a better race really," said Heimgartner.
Super Black Racing team pricipal Paul Radisich, himself a former V8 Supercar star, commended Heimgartner's efforts after the race.
“The team is very happy with how everything went this weekend in terms of where we finished, the progress we’ve made with the FG X and how Andre [Heimgartner] has developed as a driver. We had a plan but I think Andre [Heimgartner] has proven today why he is the team’s first driver," said Radisich.
Fellow Kiwi McLaughlin endured another difficult weekend; his team struggling to match the devastating pace they were capable of in 2014. After another car failure ruled him out in race one, McLaughlin bounced back to claim two top ten finishes in the second and third races. He now sits 13th in the points just ahead of Heimgartner in 14th.
The fourth Kiwi in the field Fabian Coulthard also had an indifferent weekend; ending it with two tenth place finishes and a ninth in the final. After entering the weekend second in the points, he has fallen to seventh.
One of the major talking points of the weekend was an incident between James Courtney and Will Davison in race one. After contact saw Davison spin, the Erebus Motorsport driver had an heated exchange with Courtney - labeling the driver "pathetic".
"I've had my race ruined by someone being silly. [...]Every time the guy's near me, he's gotta drill me. He's telling me to 'have a cry, I'll be right'. I mean, the arrogance of the bloke is just pathetic, I feel sorry for him," said a livid Davison.
The V8 Supercars now have a one month break. Their next round will be at arbagello in Perth, on the 1st to the 3rd of May.