TeamVodafone’s Jamie Whincup and Sébastien Bourdais held on to win the opening race of the Armor All Gold Coast 600 surviving an incident-filled race to extend Whincup’s grip on the 2012 championship.
The race took three attempts to get underway after crashes off the line brought proceedings to a spectacular halt.
On the first start, American Grand Am regular Ricky Taylor was lucky to escape unharmed after a five-car collision resulted in his #33 Fujitsu Racing GRM Commodore coming to a halt on its roof. Ahead, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe, in the sister GRM car, had bogged and was hit from behind by Vitantonio Liuzzi in the Team HIFLEX entry. Liuzzi was then collected by Simon Pagenaud in the IRWIN Racing Ford while Taylor, squeezed between two vehicles clipped the left-front wheel of Liuzzi’s car and was launched into a roll, going over twice before sliding upside down on the front straight.
After a half-hour delay, the red-flag was out again at the restart when Lockwood Racing’s Nicolas Minassian stalled and was hit from behind by Fair Dinkum Sheds Racing co-driver Franck Montagny.
With six cars out, the third start came almost an hour later than that originally scheduled, the race also reduced to a timed-event rather than a 300km race.
Out front, Bourdais diced with Mika Salo the early race leader, before handing over to Whincup who got the jump on the Tradingpost FPR entry assuming a race lead he wouldn’t lose. Will Davison took over from Salo, but less than a lap later crashed out of contention hitting a wall at turn 11. Although going on to finish in 19th, his title chances are now effectively over.
Over the closing 20 laps, Jonathon Webb in the Tekno Autosports entry piled the pressure on Whincup after a near perfect opening stint by co-driver Marc Lieb, cutting the gap down to less than 0.5s in a sprint to the flag as the race reached its time cut-off after 79 of the 102 scheduled laps.
Behind Webb, Mark Winterbottom charged from ninth to third after a slow start from co-driver Will Power saw the Orrcon Steel FPR car drop outside the Top ten in the early stages of the race.
Having started in 20th after a crash in qualifying, Garth Tander and co-driver Ryan Briscoe both put in strong stints to bring the #2 Holden Racing Team car home in fourth place. A late effort by David Reynolds in the Bottle-O Racing Team car to pass Tander ended in damage to the Ford’s steering and the Lucky 7 Racing entry of Tim Slade and David Brabham came through to finish fifth, ahead of Craig Lowndes / Richard Lyons, James Courtney / Darren Turner, Rick Kelly / Graham Rahal, Russell Ingall / Peter Dumbreck and Shane van Gisbergen / Jeroen Bleekemolen who, despite receiving an early drive-through for jumping the Turn 1 kerb, rounded out the top-ten.
A number of other drivers were also deemed to have overused the kerbing in the absence of the electronic sensor system which had been switched off after Friday practice.
The safety car was called upon a further three times during the race, the first on lap 16 after Wilson Security Racing’s Jamie Campbell-Walter made contact with Gianni Morbidelli, which saw the #12 Jim Beam Racing Ford in the wall at the final corner. The race was then restarted three laps later, only to be yellow flagged again after Peter Kox in the Team Norton DJR car went in to the wall at Turn 11. The final appearance came on lap 56 to clear debris on the exit of Turn 11.
The second 300km race will be held tomorrow after another qualifying session to determine the starting order.
After its start-line incident, the #3 Team Hiflex Ford has been ruled out of the second race, while it remains doubtful that the #33 Fujitsu Racing Commodore of Greg Ritter and RickyTaylor will be fixed in time.