Winton SuperSprint – hits and misses

Winton SuperSprint hits and misses

I don’t get to nearly as many races as I’d like to during the Virgin Australia Supercars season. But Winton is one round that I am yet to miss since starting volunteering with Supercars in later half of the 2015 season.

The relatively quiet Supercars races offered up some unexpected wins and disappointing losses. By contrast, the challenging weather conditions on Saturday morning put the Aussie Racing Cars to the test in what was effectively a trial run for the night race scheduled for Supercars at Sydney Motorsport Park later this year. The Touring Car Masters navigated the wet conditions on Saturday without incident, while an error on the restart after a lengthy safety car period in race 9 prevented a clean sweep of the weekend by Steven Johnson. For V8 Touring Car’s Jack Smith, the road to round victory was a bumpy one, but the young driver was ultimately able to extend his championship lead.

Hits and misses, ups and downs, wins and losses – whatever you want to call them – here are my thoughts on the weekend that was the 2018 Winton SuperSprint.

Rick Kelly’s win – hit

There was something very poetic about Nissan Motorsport’s performance this weekend. There’s no doubt that the past week has been a rollercoaster ride for the Kelly brother’s Melbourne-based team after Nissan confirmed that it will no longer back the team after the end of this season.

Nissan Motorsport’s weekend started off with a strong start in Friday practice with Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso topping the charts in the final practice of the day. The momentum continued throughout the weekend where the pair locked out the second row in qualifying for races 13 and 14 and both finishing in the top 10 on Sunday.

Scotty’s save – hit

Race 14 on Sunday started as many have recently, Scott McLaughlin was on pole. Once the lights went out, Scott dropped from first to eighth within a matter of seconds. As the field swallowed him up, an early call to pit from engineer Ludo Lacroix gave him the clear air he needed to make up the lost ground.

Scott worked his way back through the field to finish third behind teammate Fabian Coulthard and Shane Van Gisbergen.

The SuperUtes – hit

‘Boring’ and ‘slow’ were two words I heard used to describe the fledgling SuperUtes category over the weekend, but I must disagree. This is a brand-new category finding its feet and I think we’d all do well to let the drivers and teams settle in before writing them off. Winton was only their second round and it’s nice to see something different on the track.

Maybe next year they can open up the dirt section of the RXAus track to give the utes a little purposeful off-road action?

Winton itself – hit

The track is home to both maiden wins – Tim Slade in 2016 during his first year with BJR – and high-profile teammate clashes – James Courtney and Garth Tander in 2015. There seems to be a collective less than enthusiastic view of Winton. Maybe it’s because I’m still relatively new to this game, or maybe because it’s just not true, either way, I tend to disagree with the humdrum response that this track can elicit.

Over the last few years, the Benalla Auto Club has been working tirelessly to improve the facilities and securing money from the state to resurface the track in 2016. Winton is one of the few places where you can pack up the tent and camp trailer and make a weekend out of the race. Camping was sold out this year and last year, and it’s good to see the viewing areas packed with spectators during the sessions.

Percat’s broken promise – miss

This one hits hard for me, given my connection to Brad Jones Racing. The home-town advantage didn’t do much for BJR even though a strong practice 2 result for Nick Percat on Friday seemed to suggest otherwise. Making his way to third in Friday’s practice, Nick showed a glimmer of promise to repeat his strong results in round two at Albert Park. Nick qualified 10th and 15th and finished 18th and 14th on Saturday and Sunday.

Dave’s dismal weekend – miss

I like David Reynolds. He calls it like he sees it and isn’t afraid to err on the side of slightly inappropriate. He and Erebus are a good fit, and he’s starting to come into his own as a driver since signing with the squad last year. I’ve enjoyed seeing their collective successes this year and proving that you don’t have to be a powerhouse team to win races.

It was disappointing to see him finish last of the classified drivers in race 13 due to the damage he sustained in the early laps of Saturday’s race.

Out of my comfort zone

Orange is still not my colour.
Orange is still not my colour.

This weekend I stepped out of the media centre and into a flag point for round one of the Winton Motor Racing Championship as a trainee flag marshal. I learned more (and knew more!) than I thought I would and have an even greater appreciation for track-side officials. Ten hours in a concrete box with a tin roof is no easy feat.

There is no denying that watching racing on TV or from the grandstand is an exciting experience. One small miss-step or one race winning move has the power to draw a collective “oh s***” from the audience, I would say more so than any other sport – think SVG’s recent Bathurst 12 Hour debacle in the dying laps of the race or Fabian Coulthard’s heart-stopping smash at the Gold Coast last year. But, I’m not much of a sports fan outside of things with four wheels or a pigskin so don’t quote me on that.

But there is something to be said for being right in the action, breathing in the smell of a bit of burning rubber after a wheel lock or the sound of a turbo 13b brap-brap-brapping its way passed or watching the water in your bottle vibrate as the cars zip by. Seeing, hearing, feeling – that’s how you learn and that’s how you grow. You can’t write about what you don’t know and there is plenty about motorsport that I don’t know. I’ve never been the type of person who enjoys just sitting behind a computer commenting on what’s going on around me. I want to live and breathe the things that I write about.

I’m looking forward to many more 10-hour days in a concrete box with a tin roof in the future.