V8 Supercars is back on track again: Clipsal 500

As an aficionado of global motorsport, I get excited by world class racing. That being said, I thought I would deviate from the norm of writing about NASCAR and write an article about the ultra competitive V8 Supercars. Below is a link to a great blog that allows you to watch various race series from all over the world including the V8 Supercars races; BurningWhee1s

The V8 Supercars are an Australian stock-car race series, like NASCAR.  There are three feeder classes to help young drivers “climb the ladder” into the top series. The V8 Ute’s are the equivalent of the Camping World Truck Series, the Dunlop Series is equivalent to the Xfinity cars and the V8 Supercars are the distant Aussie cousin to the Sprint Cup cars.

The V8 Supercars run 33 road course races at 15 different tracks. The races are primarily in Australia with races in New Zealand / Malaysia. During a race weekend, there is a sprint race and a longer race – usually twice the distance of the sprint race. At the tail end of the season, there are three endurance races with a primary / secondary driver. These three races make up the Enduro Cup a separate championship within a championship. The endurance races range in distance from 500-1000 Km.

The Holden Commodore of Fabian Coulthard by GTHO (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Clipsal 500 has been held, since 1999 on a 3.2 Km. temporary road course on the streets of
Adelaide, South Australia.  The average lap speed on this fast road course averages 144 Km., the race has the toughest corner in Australian motorsport turn 8.

A corner that has made many a race car driver feels it’s wrath. This opening round of the V8SC championship is one of Australia’s biggest motor racing events.  The build up to this race is like that of the build up to the Daytona 500. The anticipation builds, until you can’t wait for the season to begin. For me this anticipation is added to by the fact that Australia is a world away tucked “Down Under” far from the U.S.

As you can imagine, I was excited to see the first race of the 2016 V8SC season underway. I always love the first race of a new season with the new sponsors, new paint jobs on the cars and drivers on new teams. Fabian Coulthard who now drives for DJR Team Penske and Shane Van Gisbergen joining Red Bull Racing Australia are the main drivers who have switched teams for 2016.

The story of race 1 at the Clipsal 500 was the heat of the southern hemisphere late summer. Air temperature was 39 degrees with track temp. being 43 and the heat inside the cars was a whopping 53 degrees. To counter the heat, the drivers wear cool vests that use dry ice to cool them off while racing.

The drivers started the opening laps of the 2016 season in a train of loud brightly colored cars bouncing off of the curbs, an assault on the senses that fans had waited months for. The fairly uneventful 125 Km. race of the new season had a familiar winner, Jamie Whincup of Red Bull Racing Australia; second was James Courtney; Shane Can Gisbergen was third, bringing home his first podium on his new team. The Holden automotive brand went first through third. Scott McLaughlin driving a Volvo adorning the Swedish flag on its roof finished fourth. The drivers quickly debrief then cool off in an ice water bath to prepare for race 2.

Ford Falcon of Mark Winterbottom by GTHO (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Race 2 mirrored race 1 in that it was a fairly uneventful 39 lap 125 Km. sprint event, but this race was run using the hard tire. Race 1 had been run using the Soft Dunlop tire. Chaz Mostert took pole. The only major incident of the race was when Chris Pither put his Ford into the wall hard becoming yet another victim of turn 8.

Mostert led much of the early race until he ran wide and both James Courtney and Jamie Whincup passed him in the blink of an eye. The race then became a two car race for the win.  James Courtney was barely able to hold off Whincup who was beating on his rear bumper. The pair were driving like it was the final few laps of the championship, not the second race of a 33 race season.

Race 3 is the big race of the weekend, scheduled for 250 Km. and 78 laps. Fabian Coulthard took pole. During the formation lap something happened that none of the teams were prepared for- it began to rain. The 2015 champion Mark Winterbottom nearly slid into the wall driving at a walking speed. Following this the teams that were not on wet tires went to pit lane to change to wet tires. The race was rain delayed. When the race started the first 6 laps were behind the Lexus safety car. Some of the teams even debated if the race had officially started.

This race was truly a wild one. It rained, dried out, then down- poured heavy tropical rain. Drivers like Shane Van Gisbergen, who is known for his wet weather car control spun several times. Craig Lowndes charged through the field from 17th to take the lead. James Courtney crashed in a race it looked like he would win. The fun didn’t end there. Lightning struck, power went out in pit lane, then the race was red flagged for about ten minutes on lap 42. The leader at the time was Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin.

When the race resumed, the chaos wasn’t over yet. The race ended on lap 48 because it had run its two-hour time limit. There was some brief confusion in pit lane over whom had won the race, because of a rule that each car has to have taken 140 liters of fuel and some did not. Those that had not taken the required fuel load were given a sixty second penalty.

Local boy Nick Percat won the race for the small Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport team in a Holden. Percat’s father had been a factory worker in the local Holden plant. It was Nick Percat’s first solo win. Michael Caruso who took the overall points lead was second. Garth Tander finished third. After the race Percat said “To cross the line here is unbelievable, it’s a feeling I ‘ll never forget”. He also said “You can’t forecast what happens on days like today, to suddenly go from 15th and get a win.” Percat is the first South Australian to win the Clipsal 500. Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin stated about the race “It was the craziest race I ‘ve ever been a part of. ”

By: Stephen Dando – @SteveOnTheGrid

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