ADELAIDE, Australia — Story by Race Chaser Online International Motorsport Correspondent Jack Cobourn — Robert Cianflone/Getty Images AsiaPac photo —
Hometown young gun Nick Percat outlasted the conditions and drivers to win a wet and wild finale to the Clipsal 500 Adelaide on Sunday.
Percat and his Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport team assumed the point as late-race leader Scott McLaughlin and three-time V8 Supercars champion Craig Lowndes pitted to take on fuel (in order to meet the mandated ‘fuel drop’ requirement described in the series’ rulebook) coming to the white flag. The South Australian then led the final circuit — despite running wide at turn seven — en route to his second career V8SC win and first as a solo driver.
The win was also the first for the Dumbrell-owned team, and the celebration was a wild one after a day in which thunderstorms and soaking conditions characterized the racing action — ultimately shortening the race to just 48 of the 78 scheduled laps due to time constraints.
“This is unbelievable!” a stunned Percat exclaimed in a waterlogged victory lane celebration. “I’ve watched this (sport) since I was (just a kid)! The car was amazing in the dry, but we had a good car in the wet too, even though we were all just hanging on at times. It was amazing to battle it out with Fabian at the end there … I got the over and under somehow. I couldn’t believe it as I came out of the final corner (on the way to the win).”
The question in the pits before the race was the chance of rain in the air, notified by the black clouds above the circuit.
As the cars streamed off on the warm-up lap, the skies opened and numerous cars dove into the pits for wets. The race was halted for five minutes while the tires were fitted and the formation lap was run again.
The race finally began under safety car conditions, and cars continued to dive for the pits. The officials called for lap seven to be the actual racing start, and the sun began to pop out behind the clouds.
Polesitter Fabian Coulthard got the jump on Chaz Mostert and Shane van Gisbergen, leading the first two laps at full green speed before Van Gisbergen grabbed the lead at turn four on lap nine> The lead for SvG would not last a whole lap, though, as the Kiwi ran wide at turn nine and handed the lead back to Coulthard.
Amidst all of that chaos, Lowndes quickly charged through the field to fourth after having started 17th, up 13 positions by lap 10.
The sun began to show again by lap 12, offering a brief respite before the action heated up again. Courtney got ahead of Van Gisbergen and took control of the lead on lap 14 when Van Gisbergen ran wide at turn four, just moments before Race 1 winner Jamie Whincup got spun by Reynolds at the final corner and lost numerous positions. The dry line began to form around lap 15, but more weather was moving in to wreak havoc on the field.
Lowndes was the recipient of a lucky break on lap 18, as Van Gisbergen and Courtney made contact and spun on lap 18 entering turn eight. The duo resumed quickly and settled into second and third, but were nearly three seconds back of Lowndes after the issue.
Courtney got the lead back on lap 19 as Lowndes hit the pit lane, sparking a full cycle of pit stops through the field. Garth Tander grabbed the lead on lap 20, but Lowndes grabbed it back on lap 22 once Tander hit the lane. Courtney and Lowndes went at it, but the big surprise was Mostert appearing out of thin air in third and giving the two a hard time.
While the Lowndes-Courtney storm raged on, Mostert was holding onto their coat tails around the track. Rain began to fall again on lap 27, but it did not deter the lead pack, though Lowndes began to draw away from Courtney.
The safety car came out on lap 28, as Mostert whacked the wall coming out of eight and spun down into the turn nine wall as his steering failed. Courtney wasn’t too safe from a mistake either, as he slammed the pit wall on his way in for wet-weather tires.
Rick Kelly grabbed the lead as Lowndes pitted on lap 30, and many cars followed suit and dove into the pits as the track went green on 32, giving Courtney the lead due to Kelly sliding wide at nine — his windshield wiper failing as the race continued.
Kelly dove for the safety of the pits, luckily ahead of Tim Slade who got stuck in the pit lane fence, creating a bottleneck. Slade had broken a steering arm which caused the issue. The conditions continued to grow more and more hazardous as the rain intensified around lap 35, with visibility being almost zero and parts of the pit lane losing power.
The safety car came out on lap 36 as Courtney slammed the left hand side of his Commodore at turn eight, destroying it and his chances at a Clipsal 500 hat trick. McLaughlin grabbed the lead as a result while the Holden Racing Team scrambled to fix the car to grab just a handful of points.
The conditions were getting poorer, as the field resembled speedboats more than cars, splashing through the thick layer of water on the track. By the halfway point, McLaughlin led under the safety car in worsening visibility. The drivers were complaining that they couldn’t keep up with the safety car, waves were being formed in the trail of the cars and storm drains around the streets couldn’t keep up with the water as it flowed at an unbelievable rate.
The red flag finally arrived on lap 42, as thunder growled and lightning flashed around the circuit. The teams rushed out and put covers over the cars during the first red flag in the history of the Clipsal 500. After five minutes, the covers were taken off the cars and a five-minute warning was given to the drivers in an attempt to give fans a green-flag finish amidst a time certain scenario.
At this point, the controversy was brought up regarding whether or not cars would meet the written regulations on having carried or ‘dropped’ the mandated 140 liters of fuel into their race cars — a 30 second time penalty the price for any cars not adhering to the rule.
The race resumed on lap 43 and the cars streamed out of the pits behind the safety car. The finish countdown clock began and on lap 44, the lights on the safety car went out. The cars went green with little less than five minutes left in the race.
McLaughlin pulled out a slight lead over Lowndes as the Volvo had the clearest view. Lowndes closed the gap on McLaughlin with 53 seconds left on the penultimate lap, but it was at that point that both the Kiwi and Lowndes had to duck down pit lane in order to take on enough fuel to be in compliance with the rules. That was the move that left Percat in the lead, and he held off the DJR Team Penske entry of Coulthard for a stunning victory in Adelaide.
The two Penske cars ended up incurring 30-second penalties due to the fuel drop regulations after the checkered flag, elevating the Nissan of Michael Caruso to second and ultimately, to the points lead by 20 markers as well — the first time in his career he has led the championship.
“(The points lead) is a credit to my team behind me,” Caruso said. “They did so much work during the offseason (to get ready for 2016), so to have a Nissan up on the podium is a huge step forward for us (as a team). I didn’t expect to be leading it … I’m really happy the work is starting to pay off though.”
Caruso added that the weather was the worst he had ever seen it during a V8 Supercars event, saying “the only thing I can compare (Sunday) to was Sydney [in 2014] but personally I think this time around was worse overall.”
Amidst the deluge, Tander battled back to round out the podium in third, claiming second place in the championship points standings through the conclusion of the first weekend of the 2016 season.
“I still don’t know really what happened throughout that race … I’m not sure anyone does, really,” Tander said with a chuckle. “Our [car] was really fast in the wet but I had no windscreen wiper so I couldn’t see much.”
Tander also lauded the efforts of his former teammate and endurance co-driver.
“It’s pretty cool for Nick to win his first solo race here in Adelaide as well. Having co-driven with him when he won his first (race at Bathurst in 2011), it’s great to see him break through on his own this go-round. This is not an easy race to win … so to manage the weather and the rules, it says a lot about him and his team.”
Young Prodrive Racing Australia rookie Cameron Waters finished a stunning fourth, just ahead of David Reynolds in the top five.
Brothers Todd and Rick Kelly, Jason Bright, reigning champion Mark Winterbottom and Van Gisbergen rounded out the top 10.
McLaughlin and Lowndes were scored 12th and 13th after their late-race splashes of fuel, with Whincup ending up 16th following his early race troubles.
The V8 Supercars Championship returns to action March 18-19 with the non-points Rolex Australian Grand Prix support races.
RESULTS: V8 Supercars Championship; Clipsal 500 Adelaide — Race 3; Adelaide Parklands Street Circuit; March 6, 2016
- Nick Percat
- Michael Caruso
- Garth Tander
- Cameron Waters
- David Reynolds
- Todd Kelly
- Rick Kelly
- Jason Bright
- Mark Winterbottom
- Shane van Gisbergen
- Tim Blanchard
- Scott McLaughlin
- Craig Lowndes
- Fabian Coulthard
- Scott Pye
- Jamie Whincup
- Will Davison
- Lee Holdsworth
- Andre Heimgartner
- Tim Slade
- James Courtney
- James Moffat
- Dale Wood (DNF)
- Chaz Mostert (DNF)
- Aaren Russell (DNF)
- Chris Pither (DNS)
About the Writer
Jack Cobourn is the international motorsports correspondent at Race Chaser Online, and covers the V8 Supercars Championship, Rally Cars and the FIA World Rally Championship. Cobourn has been an avid follower of motorsports for years, having not missed a Formula One race in 16 seasons. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware, with a degree in history and a minor in journalism.
Email Jack at: Jack.Cobourn@yahoo.com
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