Standouts, Shockers, Surprises: Sandown SuperSprint
Wednesday 24th March, 2021 - 6:00am
Supercars’ return to Sandown International Motor Raceway marked the first time since November, 2019 that the circus rolled into town, and boy didn’t it deliver.
Rain, hail, or shine, one of Supercars’ longest-serving circuits gave us plenty to talk about.
In this next edition of Standouts, Shockers, Surprises, we look at all the big talking points from the Sandown SuperSprint.
Shane van Gisbergen
Let’s get the most glaringly obvious assessment out of the way. Shane van Gisbergen is in the form of his life.
Off the back of a cleansweep at the Mount Panorama 500, the Kiwi went and broke his collarbone (and three ribs as was later revealed), threatening to derail his championship challenge.
Amid some serious doubts, the Red Bull Ampol Racing driver banged his Holden to the top of the timesheets in the opening minutes of first practice, setting the tone for a stellar weekend.
Race 3 will go down in history as one of his greatest Supercars drives of all-time, coming from 17th to make a last-lap pass on Cameron Waters and win the 36-lap sprint.
The 31-year-old continued to put on a clinic, easing to victory in Race 4 and Race 5 from the front row in each instance.
The broken remains unbroken in 2021 and shows no sign of ending that streak at Symmons Plains. Van Gisbergen is undoubtedly this year’s championship favourite.
If not for the ongoing chaos created by the coronavirus pandemic, Sandown wasn’t going to be on the Supercars calendar in 2021.
From being a notable omission, Sandown was brought back courtesy of the Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix being delayed to November.
Each race provided plenty of overtaking, often leaving the television director wondering where to look. At Sandown the SuperSprint format truly shone.
Sandown may have only a few years left to live, so Supercars should make the most of its time remaining at the venue. Heck, let’s go back to the good old days of having a sprint and an endurance event.
The way Brodie Kostecki drove in Race 5 of the championship, you would have thought he had broken his collarbone before the race.
Now, I know this is the second edition in a row that Kostecki/Erebus Motorsport has featured in the Standouts, but it goes without saying that the 23-year-old was super at Sandown.
Kostecki didn’t have it all his own way, suffering technical troubles throughout the weekend. In some ways, that made his maiden Supercars podium that extra bit special.
Up until the final outing, Kostecki looked an unlikely challenger, but gained five places in the final affair to be in contention for the win and eventually take second place.
An honourable mention must go to team-mate Will Brown, who gained 12 places to finish seventh in that same race. It probably won’t be long before he’s on a podium this year, too.
Mostert vs Waters
Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters could qualify at opposite ends of the field and still find a way to find each other on a race track, it would seem.
It’s a joke as old as time. Despite no longer being team-mates at Tickford Racing, the pair remain seemingly inseparable.
Their clashes in years past at Mount Panorama and Pukekohe Park have been well documented, and now they can add Sandown to that list.
The pair lined up alongside each other in all three races in Melbourne, their battle coming to a head in Race 4 when Mostert tagged the back of Waters and sent him into a spin.
That would ultimately starve the Mobil 1 Appliances Online Racing driver of a podium as he moved to redress the matter, though Waters would recover from a 360-degree spin to hold out Jamie Whincup for second.
It must be noted too that as van Gisbergen’s biggest threats in the early stages of 2021, they managed to lockout the front row a day earlier and still lose to the Kiwi who was sat on the ninth row of the grid…
It’s a shocker that these two keep coming to blows, but long may the battle continue.
That S5000 start
There were stunning scenes on Sunday morning as S5000 got underway for its first Heat of the weekend.
It seemed some were more eager than others to get the action underway, the race starter sending the field off for the start of the race instead of the warm-up lap.
Thomas Randle was a victim in the Lap 0 chaos, colliding with Kaleb Ngatoa and suffering damage to his car.
The chaos continued as the Safety Car was deployed, the race red-flagged shortly thereafter.
Some cars were repositioned to their original starting positions but Joey Mawson, who started from the front, changed tyres and restarted the race from the rear. A confusing kerfuffle.
Nevertheless, each S5000 outing was a thunderous and entertaining affair.
This might seem a little harsh for a midfield team that was at one stage in the hunt for a race win… but there’s two reasons for concern here.
One, the pit stop issues that reared their head often last year haven’t fully been fixed, despite a premium being placed on improving that area.
A sluggish tyre change in Race 3 saw Mark Winterbottom lose a crucial place to Whincup in the pit stop sequence at a time when he had been all over Waters for the race lead.
It ultimately left ‘Frosty’ to settle for fourth place for the sixth time at Team 18, meaning he is still podium-less since 2018.
The Irwin Racing Commodore did have a solid weekend all up to remain in the championship’s top five, but the second cause for concern was the relative uncompetitiveness of the sister DeWalt Racing entry.
Results of 12th, eighth and 22nd are a far cry from what Scott Pye is capable of, and left the 31-year-old appearing perplexed.
Dick Johnson Racing
You have to go back to The Bend Motorsport Park in 2018 to find the last time neither Shell V-Power Racing Team entry was on the podium at some stage during a SuperSprint event.
It’s fair to say that Dick Johnson Racing duo Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale have had a tougher than expected start to the season. A changing of the guard requires time, but sixth in the teams’ championship has to be regarded a surprise given the lofty standards it has set in recent years.
After two events, De Pasquale languishes down the standings in 17th without a podium to his name.
He recorded his second DNF of the season after an engine failure in Race 4, a rare occurrence in itself for the usually infallible Dick Johnson Racing.
Davison, meanwhile, nabbed third in final Qualifying but never truly threatened for a podium.
An off-road excursion late in Race 3 on the Saturday scuppered a “steam train finish”, ultimately finishing two laps down in 22nd. Finishes of 10th and fifth followed, the latter an impressive recovery mission after an early spin.
With that said, Sandown traditionally hasn’t been kind to the team in years gone by. Expect them to rebound at Symmons Plains.
Kelly Grove Racing
If not for a touch-and-go moment, Kelly Grove Racing might have walked away from the team’s home event with two podium finishes.
Andre Heimgartner was unlucky not to notch his first success of 2021 after being run wide by Chaz Mostert, but team-mate David Reynolds made up for that in the weekend’s final outing.
Reynolds’ ability is known, but it’s perhaps a surprise to see him with silverware in tow so early on in his relationship with the team. It certainly bodes well for the rest of the season.
There was a sweet irony in Reynolds’ first podium with Kelly Grove Racing coinciding with that of Kostecki at Erebus Motorsport. Let’s hope that battle bubbles away throughout 2021.
Tim Slade/CoolDrive Racing
After the meteoric rise and fall of CoolDrive Racing at the season-opener, there was an element of expectation that Tim Slade and the team might be Sandown contenders.
The team was less than spectacular at home, however.
Things looked promising in Practice 1 as Slade put his rebuilt Ford Mustang third quickest in the session, but it was a wishy-washy weekend from there.
Finishes of 13th, ninth, and 17th were a far cry from the potential the team had shown in Bathurst and promised for Sandown.
The best is yet to come, I hope.