Red Bull team manager Mark Dutton admits his team has homework to do on fuel strategy after its quest for a sixth straight win in the pre-Bathurst 500km enduro fell apart on Sunday.
The team’s brand new #1 Holden of Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell appeared on course for a dream debut when, after sweeping both qualifying races on Saturday, it controlled the first 110 laps of the Sandown 500.
The duo’s charge subsequently unravelled through a combination of fuel strategy and a puncture, resulting in a 15th place finish that saw Whincup’s title prospects seemingly suffer a knock-out blow.
With the whole field’s strategies compromised by the timing of a mid-race Safety Car, Red Bull abandoned hope of making it home on four stops, committing first Craig Lowndes (on lap 88) and then Whincup (on lap 111) to five.
Dutton and his fellow engineers subsequently watched on as, aided only by a brief two-lap long second Safety Car, all of the team’s nearest rivals made it through on the minimum four.
Winner Mark Winterbottom ran flat out in the closing stages while fending off team-mate Chaz Mostert before boasting of having “heaps of fuel” left at the end.
Speaking to Speedcafe.com in the Sandown paddock on Sunday evening, Dutton admitted he was unsure whether his car had poor economy or if the team had made errors in its calculations.
“It was quite surprising to us that all the other cars made it on fuel, even with the second Safety Car,” Dutton told Speedcafe.com.
“We’ve got to double check if we could have made it. We were weighing up both options (four or five stops), but we thought we were going to be quite a few laps short.
“In the end there wasn’t enough Safety Car laps from the numbers we were originally looking at anyway, so there is a little bit of homework to understand how the others were able to do it.
“We didn’t think we were too much different to everyone else with economy, except for the fact that Jamie was out in front and using a little bit more breaking the air for those behind.”
Regardless, the lap 111 stop was a disaster as a crew member dislodged a bracket from the pit gantry while reaching for a spare wheel nut, knocking the piece of metal under the car.
That resulted in a puncture that saw Whincup pull back into the pits just three laps later, burying him even further into the pack.
“Just before the car took off I saw it under the car, but the car is in motion and you can’t run out and physically stop it,” said Dutton of the situation.
“I was straight away looking for it (the puncture) on the tyre pressure sensors, which did their job in the end.
“When I radioed to Jamie he’s gone ‘are you sure, because it feels fine’. Then 10 or 15 seconds later he said ‘yeah, good call’.
“That’s where, depending on the timing, if you lose the last chunk of pressure at the end of the back straight, you get what happened to Lee Holdsworth last year (a destroyed car).
“Initially the pressure in the tyre was still coming up as the heat was going in faster than the air was coming out,” he added.
“We were just hoping against hope that somehow it hadn’t punctured it, but we were kidding ourselves really.”
Although the result was a disaster, Dutton was left encouraged by his car’s speed, which he says would “definitely” have been good enough to hold off the Prodrive Fords had fuel strategy not been a factor.
“Car speed wasn’t an issue… I don’t think they could have caught and passed us,” he said.
“With the way it played out, if we didn’t do the extra stop, we win that race as long as we could make it on fuel.”