Toll Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander and Nick Percat have won the 2011 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 in an electrifying last lap duel with TeamVodafone’s Craig Lowndes.
It was a race that had everything – drama and heartache, crashes, breakdowns and a terrifying fuel fire. But after 161 laps and more than six and a half hours of driving, it came down to less than three-tenths of a second at the finish.
Over the final 20 laps, Lowndes stormed through from fourth cutting the margin to half a second to Tander going into the last lap. With Lowndes harrying him to make a mistake, Tander stuck to his line, surviving the onslaught and crossing the line just 0.292 seconds ahead of the five-time Bathurst winner – the closest competitive finish in the race’s 49-year history.
The win is Tander's third Bathurst crown and his 50th career race victory. Tander's team-mate, 23 year-old Percat also became the first driver since 1977 to win Bathurst on his debut. Having driven a near-perfect race, Percat's only fault was a minor brush with the wall at the outside of Griffiths bend while making way for an inside pass from Lowndes.
“What a finish,” Tander said. “I didn’t have much left and I knew he was coming. On the last lap he [Lowndes] had a sneaky look at the tree and I thought he was coming through.
“In the end I was able to hold on and it is just amazing to win here again.”
“We’ve had a fast car all week and Nick did an awesome job,” he continued. “There was a lot of pressure and a lot of people saying he didn’t have enough experience, but I had absolute faith in him and he did a great job for us.”
Lowndes and co-driver Mark Skaife's second place finish was made even more remarkable after they repeatedly lost valuable time and track position throughout the race having to queue behind TeamVodafone teammates Jamie Whincup and Andrew Thompson during pit-stops on three occasions. They also made more stop than Tander and Percat.
With pole-sitter, four-time Bathurst champion Pepsi Max Crew's Greg Murphy and co-driver Allan Simonsen finishing third, it was an all-Holden podium. Murphy had slipped outside the top-ten, but having battled his way back up the order, he was the main beneficiary of the final safety car appearance with a perfectly timed pit-stop. Second at the restart, he was unable to hold off Lowndes, but maintained third place all the way to the chequered flag.
Ford Performance Racing’s Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards were next, with Team BOC's Jason Bright and co-driver Andrew Jones, rounding out the top-five after narrowly avoiding disaster running wide at The Dipper on the penultimate lap. SP Tools Racing's Shane van Gisbergen and co-driver John McIntyre took a well-deserved sixth after van Gisbergen tore through from 19th in just 20-laps. Toll Holden Racing Team's James Courtney and co-driver Cameron McConville, Supercheap Auto Racing's Russell Ingall and co-driver Jack Perkins, Wilson Security Racing's Tony D’Alberto and co-driver Dale Wood, and Fujitsu Racing GRM drivers' Michael Caruso and Marcus Marshall made up the top ten.
Having led the race between laps 29 and 114, Whincup and Thompson were dealt a huge blow on lap 138. Earlier, Thompson, the current Fujitsu Series leader had driven faultlessly in his second and third stints, holding Percat at bay. But a faulty alternator left Whincup stranded, dropping them out of contention and dramatically shuffling the lead order. With Whincup limping his way around to the pits, the safety car was deployed and several cars including that of Lowndes, Winterbottom and Jack Daniel's Racing's Rick Kelly, all lost time behind the stricken Whincup. This allowed Murphy, Bright, Ingall and Fair Dinkum Sheds driver Karl Reindler to emerge from the pits behind race leader Tander.
From a field of 29 cars, only four did not finish – Bundaberg Racing’s Fabian Coulthard and Craig Baird were the first to retire when Coulthard was nudged into the wall by Bright on lap ten. After contact with the wall at Forrest’s Elbow, the Shannon Mars team of Grant Denyer and Cameron Waters lost over 50 laps while repairs were made to their Commodore and despite returning to the track they were too many laps down to be classified as a finisher. With a potential top-five beckoning, The Bottle-O Racing Team's Paul Dumbrell was also an unfortunate late retiree when an incident with van Gisbergen put Dumbrell's Falcon into the wall, causing substantial damage.
Jim Beam Racing drivers David Besnard and Steven Johnson were the other non-finishers, when a frightening incident on lap 112 saw Besnard's car engulfed in flames. Following a pit-stop, Bresnard exited the pit-lane and crashed at turn two, hitting a tyre bundle hard. The impact ruptured his fuel tank, spilling fuel all over the track. The fuel ignited and surrounded Besnard’s car, but quick-thinking marshals doused the inferno and the 34-year-old part-time driver emerged unharmed.
With Lowndes finishing runner-up and Whincup finishing in 21st Lowndes overhauled his team-mate's championship advantage and now has a 100-point lead in the championship standings with four rounds remaining.
The next V8 Supercars event is the Armor All Gold Coast 600 on October 22 and 23. Each team is required to have at least one driver of international reputation as a co-driver. This year's event features 28-high profile international drivers, including: Tonio Liuzzi, Yvan Muller, Tiago Monteiro, Gianni Morbidelli , Fabrizio Giovanardi, Alain Menu, and British drivers Dario Franchitti,Dan Wheldon, Richard Westbrook, Oliver Gavin and Andy Priaulx.