Mark Winterbottom felt a top five chance was cruelly taken away from him after being caught up in an opening lap melee in Race 12 at Barbagallo Raceway.
The Tickford Racing driver copped an unfortunate hit from team-mate Richie Stanaway as the field bunched up through Turn 5, which resulted in Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing’s Scott Pye spinning to the infield.
So violent was the contact that Winterbottom’s Falcon momentarily went into the air, damaging his suspension which ultimately severely affected his steering.
Winterbottom, who started a lowly 18th, one place ahead of eventual race winner Scott McLaughlin, was left to fight an ill handling car for the remainder of the 83 lap encounter to finish in 21st position.
The result arrives after the 2015 champion scored at the team’s first podium of the season following an impressive drive to second in Race 11 the day prior.
“I got a really good start, made up about four spots, then something happened at the top of the hill and Richie and I had contact,” said Winterbottom.
“I was in a really safe position, everyone was spinning to the inside, then all of a sudden they spun left.
“I went up in the air, and there was so much damage on the car, it was steering left-hand down on the straights.
“It’s unfortunate because the car actually still had good drive and I think we could have had a really good result.
“There were lots of mistakes made by other people in that race, all we had to do was drive a clean race. I still had good drive even with the wheels not pointing anywhere near where they should be, but that killed the tyre life for us.
“It’s a missed opportunity, and to see (Scott) McLaughlin get through to win, I started just ahead of him so I think we could have gotten at least a top five out of it. But bad qualifying will cost you like that.”
Winterbottom’s team-mates also struggled as Chaz Mostert (11th), Cam Waters (13th) and Stanaway (19th) all finished outside of the top 10.
Mostert had enjoyed a spell at the sharp end of the race having qualified third, but slid back into the pack after struggling for balance and tyre life with his Falcon.
“It was a tough weekend again for the Supercheap Auto crew,” said Mostert.
“We’ve still got some major gains to make to match our competitors.
“The race just didn’t go our way. Obviously this is the highest tyre degradation track on our calendar, so it really highlights any weakness.
“We were fast, but we were struggling with the balance of the car and maintaining the tyre. We used them up too much, and you can’t get away with that here.”
Waters shared Mostert’s view that the team needs to find gains to challenge the front runners after hauling his car to 13th spot.
“It wasn’t the best day. In qualifying we gambled by only running one set of green tyres, it worked yesterday and didn’t work today,” said Waters.
“We started 22nd, made a little ground early then had to double stack with the Safety Car, so we went back to last.
“We had a pretty good race car, I managed to pick some guys off towards the end and got it to 13th from last at one point, so it was all right.
“We’ve got more gains to find, so it is what it is. We’ll move on and try again in Winton.”
Team principal Tim Edwards admitted that the circuit’s high degradation further highlighted the car’s weaknesses.
“It was a difficult day all around for us,” said Edwards.
“Tracks like this, where the tyre wear is so severe, it magnifies any weakness, and it hurt us quite badly today.
“It’s unfortunate to have a day like this after a day like yesterday, it can suck the wind out of your sails. But it’s positive to have shown some progress this weekend.
“We still have plenty of work to do and only one weekend between this and our next race, so we’ll get right to it when we get back to the shop.”
The championship heads to Tickford’s test track at Winton from May 18-20.