Holden dominance: Red Bull score 1-2 at physical Gold Coast opener
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The Red Bull Holden Racing Team have finished first and second in the opening race of the Vodafone Gold Coast 600; Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes heading home Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander.
Third went to recently crowned Bathurst 1000 champs Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat, making it two Kiwis in the top three. Andre Heimgartner was set to join them in the top 10, until a late clash with James Courtney saw him take on heavy damage.
The relatively conventional opening half of the race (apart from the unconventional fact that it was free of safety cars) was dominated by Lowndes. Starting from second, the six-time Bathurst winner dragged Alex Premat away convincingly off the line before leading every lap of the first stint.
The main combination that lose out in the opening phase was David Reynolds and Luke Youlden. With Youlden at the wheel, contact with one of the tyre bundles on the back straight broke the front splitter — subsequently resulting in a long three-lap pit-stop. Still, they were better off than Chaz Mostert and James Moffat. While on his hot lap in the top-10 shootout, Mostert crunched the concrete wall at speed — writing off the Supercheap Mustang on the spot and subsequently benching the team for the weekend.
Once the main drivers had taken over, Whincup had more than six seconds in hand over McLaughlin, van Gisbergen, and Cameron Waters. Then there was an enthralling battle for fourth, headed by both Walkinshaw Andretti United Commodores, Andre Heimgartner, and Nick Percat.
McLaughlin had endured a notably imperfect day, with numerous slaps of the wall during opening qualifying. But pole in the shootout appeared to have jogged his confidence, and he slowly worked on the gap to Whincup with the final cycle of pit-stops completed. Van Gisbergen, doing something different from the pack, had made his final stop very late in the race.
Van Gisbergen's late stop meant that the race essentially boiled down to a sprint to the flag; Whincup with two seconds over McLaughlin, and McLaughlin five seconds over a storming van Gisbergen on mint tyres (and hoping for a safety car). Waters in fourth and Pye in an impressive fifth were distant to the leaders.
The move for fresher tyres for the run to the flag worked for van Gisbergen, with a pass on McLaughlin with 14 laps to go placing him in second. And, a safety car a few moments later for Garry Jacobson's muffler sitting on the turn three corner exit added more spice to van Gisbergen's stocks.
It meant his margin to Whincup would be minimised. And, conversely, McLaughlin would have Waters, Pye, Lee Holdsworth, Will Davison, and Heimgartner tucked behind for the lap-92 restart.
Heimgartner and co-driver Bryce Fullwood's day, which had been a productive one much like Bathurst, was to turn sour with the end of the race in sight. Courtney, having pressed through the field, made nose-to-tail contact with Heimgartner exiting turn three. The subsequent sideways moment slowed Heimgartner, allowing Courtney to look to the outside, and in the process of coming across to cover the 2010 champ Heimgartner was turned into the wall.
With Heimgartner ambling back to pit lane, no safety car would come in the subsequent laps. Instead the race ran green to the finish; Whincup and van Gisbergen crossing the line almost nose to tail. McLaughlin, Waters, Pye, Holdsworth, Davison, Tim Slade, Fabian Coulthard, and Rick Kelly filled the top 10.
Courtney would have finished in the top 10, but a late penalty for the incident with Heimgartner dropped him down the order to an eventual 12th.
Results; Vodafone 600 Gold Coast 600
1. Jamie Whincup/Craig Lowndes
2. Shane van Gisbergen/Garth Tander
3. Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat
4. Cameron Waters/Michael Caruso
5. Scott Pye/Warren Luff
6. Lee Holdsworth/Thomas Randle
7. Will Davison/Alex Davison
8. Tim Slade/Ash Walsh
9. Fabian Coulthard/Tony D'Alberton
10. Rick Kelly/Dale Wood
11. Anton de Pasquale/Will Brown
12. James Courtney/Jack Perkins
13. Jack Le Brocq/Jonathon Webb
14. Nick Percat/Tim Blanchard
15. Gary Jacobson/Dean Fiore
16. James Golding/Richard Muscat
17. Todd Hazelwood/Jack Smith
18. Simona de Silvestro/Alex Rullo
19. Macauley Jones/Dean Canto
20. Brodie Kostecki/Jake Kostecki
21. Mark Winterbottom/Steve Richards
22. David Reynolds/Luke Youlden
23. Richie Stanaway/Chris Pither
DNF. Andre Heimgartner/Bryce Fullwood
DNS. Chaz Mostert/James Moffatt