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THE RUNDOWN: Clipsal 500 Race 1

WELCOME to ‘the rundown’, our brief look at some of the talking points, story starters and matters of note from the opening race of the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship at the Clipsal 500.

It’s a quick look at some of the moments that made the race and what it may mean for tomorrow’s second 250km encounter.

AT the pointy-end of the field it was a case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

Despite wholesale changes throughout the Supercars paddock throughout the off-season, it was teams with continuity from 2016 that did the business today. Shane van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard and James Courtney might be in new clothes but it was a case of familiarity breeds success for today’s Clipsal 500 top-three.

In a weird quirk, all three teams represented on the podium have had branding changes since last year: Red Bull Racing has become the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, DJR Team Penske is now Shell V-Power Racing in deference to their major sponsor, and what was the Holden Racing Team is now Mobil 1 HSV Racing this year.

However while the names have changed, the core of the top three is very much the same as it was in 2016.. talk about picking up where they left off!

TODAY’S third place effort was James Courtney’s tenth podium appearance on the streets of Adelaide, from 25 starts. To make that strike rate even more impressive, the Holden ace has five podiums from the last six races at the venue. Don’t bet against a reappearance of Frank the Tank in Sunday’s race.

FOURTH place was just reward for Cam Waters, who led the Prodrive brigade home today. The result equaled the 22-year-old’s personal best single-driver race result (he was second in the 2015 Sandown 500 when co-driving with Chaz Mostert) in Supercars competition in a day where the red, white and yellow Ford’s stole the headlines for Ford fans.

FIFTH was solid for Rick Kelly, but after both Rick and Todd showed plenty of raw speed earlier in the weekend there will be some questions asked about what was ultimately a quiet day at the office for the former series champ. Solid is good, but solid isn’t going to win championships in 2017.

CRAIG Lowndes missed the shootout by 0.1 seconds on Friday and as a result started today’s race from 13th, but an under-the-radar performance from the sport’s most popular driver and new enginer John ‘Irish’ McGregor saw the Vortexmobile make up seven places to run as high as sixth within the final ten laps of today’s race, before his tyres faded late – slipping to a still solid eighth.

AS we hit the go-button on this story, Supercars’ revised judicial system will be in the midst of their first real challenge of the 2017 season as they sort the controversial contact between Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom at turn five mid race.

Whincup finished the race sixth and Winterbottom only fifteenth – 20 seconds behind Whincup, who spun the PRA Ford when he dived to the inside at turn five. The question will be, was Whincup up far enough? If yes, he’ll keep his top six finish. If not, expect a drive through penalty and a finish behind Frosty’s No. 5 entry.

AS always the ‘one-percenters’ play a role in deciding the race: Scott McLaughlin’s 17th place finish could have been a top five, if not quite a podium, had he not been sprung weaving behind the Safety Car when it’s lights were out early in today’s race. Safety Car penalties are generally pretty silly, but it’s the same rules for everyone and in this case it was the right call.

POTENTIAL awkwardness for the new teammates at Brad Jones Racing as Nick Percat and Tim Slade dueled early in the race – resulting in Slade ending stuck in the tyres at turn six. Though judged OK by race control, there’s a chance there would have been more electricity between the Brad Jones Racing teammates than in South Australia’s power grid for a few moments today.

SIMONA de Sliverstro’s debut was perfectly solid, resulted in a top-20 finish running on the lead lap, a best lap only 1.1s slower than the winner and, until she clouted the infamous turn one tyre bundle with two laps to go, a straight car for tomorrow’s second 250km encounter. A solid welcome to Supercars indeed – as most expected.

SOLID, too, was talk-of-the-town teenager Alex Rullo, who finished 23rd and two laps down. His best race lap of 1m22.32s was a full 0.7s quicker than his qualifying time on Friday afternoon and he generally kept his nose clean for most of the day.

TAZ Douglas submerged to his shoulders in an ice-filled wheelie-bin was one of the shots of the day, and shows how brutal the Clipsal 500 can be. The fact the MEGA Racing squad had to remove Jason Bright’s windows to give him some ventilation after a cool suit failure added proof of how tough the race continues to be.

75,100 people attended the third day of the Clipsal 500 Adelaide, despite the forecast 34-degree heat. It takes the three-day total to 179,200 with a day to run – with another 75,000+ gathering expected in tomorrow’s slightly cooler conditions set to push the total over 250,000 once again.

THE opening-lap battle between Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen drew a mixed response from the usually vocal crowd. While some were definitely pleased that the factory Holden grabbed the lead, there’s no doubt a growing legion of frustrated blue oval fans were keen to see their man on top – and Fabian’s fight was warmly received.

SUMMARY: The champ might have ended up on top, but the early laps of today’s race were sensational, with Coulthard fending off van Gisbergen and the plucky Courtney always nipping at their heels. After that, the strategy games kept it interesting and if that’s an indicator of what’s to come this year, then we’re in for a treat.

Also: if 2017 results in a firing-up of another potentially great Whincup-versus-Winterbottom rivalry then it’s all the better for those watching.

TEXT THE WINNER WILL SEND TONIGHT: ‘Hi Maro. Were you watching me today?? SVG’.

 

PHOTO: Dirk Klynsmith Photography.
WORDS: Richard Craill