A commanding one-two finish at Sandown was an ominous warning for Red Bull Racing Australia’s rivals ahead of next month’s Bathurst 1000.
After 12 different drivers tasted victory in the opening 27 races of the year, the start of the endurance season had an all-too-familiar feel.
The Red Bull Holdens were simply too fast for their opposition at Sandown; topping six of the seven sessions held from Friday afternoon onwards.
Even a drive-through penalty in the race, which dropped Jamie Whincup some 35 seconds adrift of the lead, wasn’t enough to stop the four-time champion and co-driver Paul Dumbrell taking the victory.
The only squad with the speed to lay a glove on Red Bull, Ford Performance Racing, again put itself on the back foot through a combination of strategic errors and pitstop fumbles.
“I’d be disappointed if we weren’t the favourites going to Bathurst,” said Red Bull team owner Roland Dane bluntly when asked of the weight of expectation now placed on his squad ahead of the biggest race of the season.
“If you look back at the last 12 years there are only two organisations that have won at Bathurst. One is us and the other is another lot in Melbourne (the Holden Racing Team).
“They’ll up their game for Bathurst undoubtedly, and there might be one or two other people in the mix, but I’d be pretty pissed off if we weren’t favourites for the event.”
Prior to Sandown, Red Bull had seemed somewhat at sea. Coincidence or not, team principal Adrian Burgess’ shock exit in early August was followed up by a shocking weekend at Winton, where Whincup’s efforts were hampered by an uncharacteristic mechanical issue.
A continuation of the problem (driveline vibration) at a post-event test saw the Red Bull team rush a new chassis into service for Sandown; an effort to which Dane paid tribute after the resounding one-two.
“Everyone did a brilliant job team wise to build a new car in four or five days from scratch, get it to a shakedown last week and roll it out here and win,” he said.
“By anyone’s standards that’s very impressive, and it was a real team effort this weekend at the track.
“I don’t think that the #1 car could have done as well as it did without the work that had been done on the #888 in terms of set-up and getting to where we needed to be with the car speed.
“The whole thing was very much a big team effort.”
Dane’s outfit has now won 10 of the last 14 V8 Supercars endurance races, scoring one-two finishes in three of the last six.
Whincup had one previous ‘500’ victory to his name from 2007, but found himself without the trophy despite holding commanding positions late in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 races.