Throwback Thursday: Supercars’ $5 million pile-up

The pile-up that ended Race 3 at Symmons Plains in 2017.

Exceptional circumstances were used to determine the outcome of one of the wildest Supercars events in Tasmania, yet the rulebook hasn’t been changed should a similar situation rear its head six years on at this weekend’s Ned Whisky Tasmania SuperSprint.

Wet track, sunlight and one wild hairpin approach. 12 cars. $5 million.

You had to squint through the spray to see who was barrelling towards what’s now the Brambles Hairpin, but as the fans stretched their necks to see who would emerge from the mist on Lap 2 of Race 3 of the 2017 season, it wasn’t the front of a Supercar.

Instead, the first thing they’d see is the rear-wing of Garth Tander’s Garry Rogers #33 Commodore on its journey – after a full spin – backwards into the wall.

Tander’s Commodore had speared the side of Rick Kelly’s Nissan Altima, which was in turn heading down the inside defending from Tim Slade’s Freightliner Commodore.

Kelly’s spinning Altima just missed Fabian Coulthard’s #12 DJR Team Penske Falcon, who escaped as the carnage unfolded behind him – but onboard footage showed that it was contact between Coulthard and Kelly that started the chain reaction of carnage.

The Shell V-Power Racing Team driver would be docked 35 championship points the next day for the contact that sparked one of the biggest pile-ups in Supercars history.

SUPERCARS GALLERY: Carnage at Symmons Plains

More miraculous than Coulthard’s close call was the Monster Energy Tickford Falcon of Cam Waters, who just missed being speared by the backwards-flying Nissan.

Kelly’s stricken Altima provided the moving roadblock that the saw six cars drill into each other – including both Garry Rogers entries and both Lucas Dumbrell Commodores – creating the pile-up on the racing line, while for good measure, Kelly’s Altima slid across the track as Will Davison came along in time to T-bone the Nissan at serious speed.

The track was completely blocked for a brief moment until Slade’s Commodore rolled into the wall following its multiple blows.

Up front, Shane van Gisbergen led Scott McLaughlin and Whincup, with Lowndes in tow, all none the wiser.

Lee Holdsworth, in the Team 18 Preston Hire VF Commodore, gingerly tip-toed through the debris left by the collection of panels, parts and now former race cars that were stuck together along the wall as a red flag was called.

There was a collection of seven on the immediate right-hand side, on the conventional racing line, while to the left was the VF Commodore of Taz Douglas, with James Courtney’s Mobil 1 Walkinshaw Commodore in the middle of the track facing oncoming traffic.

Rick Kelly’s Castrol Nissan Altima, now facing the correct way, had the front end looking like it had been punched hard square on before its chin was hanging off like a swollen jaw to stretch across the track. Sadly, the Altima of Simona De Silvestro was the other end of the pile, the two Nissans bookend the 12 cars strewn between the walls like bowling pins.

WATCH: Symmons Plains Race 3 2017 red flagged.

The Fallout

While teams facing overnight rebuilds included Garry Rogers Motorsport, Mobil 1 HSV Racing and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport, all four of Brad Jones Racing’s entries were damaged at least in some part during the incident.

Eight cars made it back out for the following day’s 84-lap Race 4 – won by Coulthard in a DJR one-two – but James Courtney (Mobil 1 HSV Racing), Rick Kelly (Nissan Motorsport) and Taz Douglas’ (LDM) entries were ruled out for the rest of the weekend.

So too was Will Davison’s Tekno Autosports Commodore, but more significantly, Davison spent the night at Launceston General Hospital for precautionary checks, suffering immense back pain. Scans revealed that was suffered a small fracture to a bone connected to a vertebra.

“This should heal up by itself reasonably quickly. He’s absorbed a large impact so is sore in quite a few places,” Supercars’ Dr Carl Le told Speedcafe at the time.

Davison was gallantly back behind the wheel at Phillip Island for Round 3 of the 2017 championship only two weeks later, with the return to Symmons Plains the following year under the pretext of avoiding a similar shunt.

Rick Kelly also suffered a leg injuries, with several muscle tears as Kelly Racing switched to the spare #003 chassis for Phillip Island.

The Hangover

The 2017 race was restarted after a 50-minute delay, completing a final lap under the Safety Car. Shane van Gisbergen was first across the line, but in the end, points weren’t awarded for the shortened race, with only four laps of the planned 50 completed.

While the Supercars Operations Manual makes provision for races which are suspended and do not restart, there is no regulation concerning a scenario where the race actually does restart, as it did that day in Tasmania.

That led to debate during the overhaul of the 2018 Supercars rulebook on how to handle such a scenario – yet there is still no provision today. Read why some team managers see this as the correct move here.

The 2023 Ned Whisky Tasmania SuperSprint takes place this weekend, May 19-21, at Symmons Plains International Raceway.

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