Jamie Whincup has sealed the first pole position of the new season following a breathless qualifying-shootout double at the Superloop Adelaide 500.
Despite being ninth in two-part qualifying, and being the second man out in the Top 10 Shootout, Whincup proved his class and guile on a weekend he announced a contract extension with the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.
It marked Whincup’s eighth pole on the Adelaide streets – an event record – with David Reynolds second by a scant 0.0048s to set an all-Holden front row for the first race of the season.
The two-part qualifying began strongly for Andre Heimgartner, who was on the initial pace with a 1:20.4510s in the #7 NED Mustang. The Kiwi would lower the mark to a 1:20.2442s to sail into Q2, taking Nick Percat, Lee Holdsworth and Jack Le Brocq with him.
However, only 13 cars competed in Q2 with LeBrocq’s#55 Supercheap Auto Mustang suffering a suspected power steering drama.
Defending champion Scott McLaughlin made an early error in Q2 as he bowled a wide at Turn 4, but recovered to post a 1:19.8256s flyer to head the field. Friday fast man Chaz Mostert slotted in behind with a 1:19.9313s to sit just a tenth down.
Whincup appeared to hit a struggle once he rotated at Turn 9, but still managed to lift himself into third behind McLaughlin – and ninth once happy hour ended – after Waters vaulted to first on a 1:19.5396s.
Pye crunches into the wall
Shane van Gisbergen, though, sealed last-out honours for the shootout once he dropped in a 1:19.4462, with Anton De Pasquale’s last-gasp effort earning himself a shootout berth at the expense of Fabian Coulthard.
De Pasquale’s shootout-opening 1:19.9582s didn’t last long at the top once Whincup set a 1:19.4793s. Whincup’s lap proved too far out of reach for Mark Winterbottom, Mostert, Nick Percat and Will Davison.
Next-man out David Reynolds somehow slotted in 0.0048s behind despite smoke spraying from the #9 Penrite ZB Commodore, before Scott McLaughlin struggled with oversteer to drop into fifth, 0.3697s down on Whincup.
That left Waters and van Gisbergen to prevent a Lazarus effort by Whincup, and the former could only pip McLaughlin to slot into fifth.
Van Gisbergen, with a chance to make it a Red Bull Holden front row and grab the record eighth pole, but could only manage sixth as Whincup claimed an 84th career pole.
The next event on the calendar is the Winton race weekend, which is scheduled across June 5-7. However, due to the fluidity of the pandemic and ever-changing restrictions laid down by governments – such as border closures – every event from this point onwards remains up in the air.
The 2020 calendar – prior to the pandemic-enforced postponements – featured consistent three-week breaks between events before a six-week layoff for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which have since been postponed to 2021.
With a maximum 13 events expected to be completed, there are 30 weeks – including the scheduled Winton weekend – remaining in 2020. However, like MotoGP and Formula 1, Supercars is open to seeing this season flow into 2021.
“The first thing we need to establish is under what conditions could [the Winton event] happen,” he said.
“That’s exactly why we’re so focused on getting an event footprint down as low as possible so we can go TV-only.
“We’re fortunate that our calendar was quite spaced out when we started the year, we had a break for over the Olympics, which aren’t happening. We have a lot of flexibility around July, August, September leading to Bathurst that we wouldn’t normally have.
“We’ve got experience from last year around doing back-to-back rounds… look for us to go back-to-back, look for us to do whatever we have to do to get this year’s championship away.
A government-imposed restriction on mass gatherings of more than 500 people, and a ban on all non-essential mass gatherings, put paid to Supercars running TV-only events. Current border closures – and New Zealand’s travel ban – currently make staging interstate events impossible.
Seamer suggested TV-only events will be part of discussions moving forward, but they would only be feasible to be held at all should government restrictions be relaxed.
“It’s an evolving situation, it feels like it’s been going on for months, but we’re only two weeks into this,” Seamer explained.
“We’re focusing on what we can control, and that is what the world can look like when we come back racing.
“One of the key things that we have to work through is when we see a lessening of restrictions, but the big thing we’re doing to get drivers out on track, is we’re spending a lot of time to assess what our minimum viable product is.
“Unlike a lot of other sports, we need quite a lot of people to execute our races. If you look at team sizes, the number of guys working on each car, the TV crew, the officials, the security… that basic fundamental group pushes us upwards of 500.
“Our team is working really hard to get that number down, so even when we’re dealing with a situation where only 500 people are allowed in one place at one time for an outdoor gathering, but we’re able to cross borders, then we can get going with a TV-only product as soon as possible.”
After six laps of the 2010 Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button found himself doubting his decision-making once he left pit lane having taken on slick tyres on a wet track.
Even a decade on, the decision still confounds, considering it worked – but that’s one reason why March 28, 2010 was such a special day for Formula 1 and its world champion.
Albert Park missed the chance to add another chapter to its F1 story in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the race cancelled. In the 25 years the venue has hosted the Grand Prix, few races matched the drama displayed in the 2010 race, but the familiar sight of the sport’s benchmark driver winning the race should, at the surface, have been no surprise.
Considering the gamble Button took, the result was a surprise for his McLaren team. A shower just before the start of the race prompted all runners to start on Bridgestone’s intermediate tyres. The first to change to slicks, Button immediately went off the road, and after the race, admitted he thought he had made a massive error.
“I think it is a lot easier for the drivers to feel the conditions. The team can see it on TV with the clouds coming in, but we can feel out on the circuit what is happening,” he said at the time, describing the changeable weather.
“I was really struggling and I lost a couple of places [on intermediates] so I thought, ‘Let’s get in, stick the slicks on’. There was a dry line. A few places were a little bit wet.
“But when I went into the pit lane I thought I had made a catastrophic decision. Once I got it going and up to speed I had a little off at Turn 3, and again I thought I had made a huge mistake, but then the pace was pretty good and I was able to put in some good laps and overtake three or four cars after they stopped and put their slick tyres on.
“I had already found out where the grip was, whereas they were still searching for it, so I was able to pass them quite easily. So, ultimately, it was the right call and I am very happy that I made it.”
Button’s race began in high drama at the first corner when he tipped Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso into a spin. Later around the first lap, Kamui Kobayashi lost the front wing on his Sauber and wiped out Nico Hulkenberg’s Williams and Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso. The safety car was an inevitability, with pole man Sebastian Vettel in control.
Two laps after Button made his call, the conditions came to him, triggering everyone else to make the switch. However, despite Button being second as the field settled, Vettel looked to have the race in his pocket.
Until Lap 20, when Vettel’s Red Bull suffered a suspected brake failure and spun into retirement in the kitty litter. Advantage, Button. Who saw that coming?
From there, Button moved to build and consolidate his lead over Renault’s Robert Kubica. The 2009 world champion was nursing his tyres and had built a lead over the Pole to the tune of nearly 10 seconds. The Ferraris of Felipe Massa and Alonso were squabbling behind Kubica, while Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber – both on fresh rubber – closed in.
Kubica found some pace as Alonso fell under pressure from Hamilton’s McLaren and Webber’s Red Bull. With three laps remaining, Hamilton pulled out of Alonso’s slipstream and got alongside on the outside heading to Turn 13. As Hamilton yielded, he was T-boned by Webber, who had missed his brake marker. Both rejoined after spinning into the gravel trap, with Webber forced into the pits for a new front wing.
Hamilton would finish sixth and Webber ninth, with Alonso trailing third-placed Massa as Kubica hung onto second.
However, despite his turbulent start to the race, Button appeared a man in complete control as the world collapsed behind him, with the Briton launching his title defence in the style he did 12 months earlier in stunning fashion for Brawn GP.
The 12-second win margin demonstrated just how easy Button had made it look – but after such a risky start to the race, Button knew much of it came down to luck.
“I made the call to pit early as I thought if I don’t pit early I am just going to keep going backwards,” he said after the race.
“I thought it was a terrible call initially as the pit lane was so wet and after my first lap out of the pits I thought it was a pretty catastrophic mistake.
“But after that I could get into it. I found on the dry parts I could push pretty hard and then really it was about picking people off as they came out onto the circuit. It was a nice feeling as they are searching for the grip and I know where it is and I am able to overtake.
“Towards the end of the race I could start pushing and got the balance back and the car felt very good. I was in a very happy place the last 20 laps knowing I had a good gap and it would have been very difficult for anyone to catch me.”
As government restrictions continue to change almost daily, companies have had to adapt and make significant calls on business directions. In many cases, employees have been laid off or stood down.
However, while Ryan said plans are being put in place at his team amid the crisis, he acknowledged the human side of the pandemic and stressed the safety of his staff.
“We shut down the shop last Friday just after lunch, we made the early call,” he said.
“We had to make sure we were in a position where everybody could be comfortable at home with their families and make their own decisions.
“We wanted to pass it over to our individuals to say, ‘You do what makes you feel comfortable, you’re going to have at least two weeks off, just get through it’.”
Should Supercars manage to hold 14 events in 2020, it could force short turnarounds between race weekends. Motivated to return to the track as soon as possible, Ryan said that scenario may require teams to work together and help each other with manpower and resources at the track, saying: “If we have to do 14 rounds in 14 weeks, we’re up for it”.
While racing is where the Penrite squad and its rivals make their presence felt, Ryan suggested guaranteeing the positions and finances of his staff remains the immediate priority.
“We’ve done a worst case scenario where we don’t race again this year and we don’t get any income and we know what we need,” he continued.
“That’s what we’re working on, and we’ve got a plan of how we can make that work, but it’s not going to be easy on anyone.
“Then we’ve got plans for if we don’t race for three months, or six weeks, and we’ve got different scenarios in place, and we’re comfortable to get through at least until the end of the year.
“Then we’ll know if we’re hopefully ready to go for 2021. I don’t think it’s going to be that bad, but we’ll wait and see.”