Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Winton Wrap-Up: Celebrations with Fine Print

What a fantastic weekend! The breaks might not have all gone as the fans wanted, but the important stuff - the on-track mayhem - came thick and fast, with some very popular wins.

(Image via V8Supercars.com.au)

Huge congrats are in order for Lee Holdsworth, Betty Klimenko and the whole Erebus Mercedes team for their breakthrough win in the second 100km race on Saturday. Somebody had to end Holden's winning streak, and it couldn't have happened to a more deserving team. We're used to team bosses being very hard-nosed bastards, the emotions just barely seeping through the cracks in their stoney faces, but Betty seems to be an entirely different breed. The live feed of the Erebus garage in those last few laps made some of the tensest, most emotional television I've ever seen, and after all the hard slog and frustration of last year, no wonder.

And she still looks like P!nk's mum. (Image via V8Supercars.com.au)

Racing is a zero-sum game though, and making a winner requires a corresponding loser. To me, though, the big losers at Winton weren't Russell "the Enforced" Ingall and anyone caught out by the pit lane radar trap (and it really was a radar trap like the police use, right down to giving inflated speeds (amirite?). However low-budget it looked, it was all pretty typical of this sport's DIY ethic, and rather clever - point it at a car entering pit lane and the readings were all clearly visible to the TV cameras...). They get no sympathy because the readings were fine once they had the limiters on, they just got too ambitious diving for the line and paid for it.

Much as I'm delighted for Erebus, their breakthrough win came on a weird day when tyre wear was off the scale and throwing a wrench into everyone's carefully-planned race strategies. Everyone looks forward to a rainy F1 race because you might see something different, and it was the same principle here. Ergo, although Lee Holdsworth says they'll have upgrades on the car before the next race at Pukekohe, I still say they'd better be ready for a return to normal service when they get to East Bondi - if they want to win again, they'll have to outrun that #33 Volvo.

So to me, the big losers to me were Scott McLaughlin and Mark Winterbottom, for whom all three races were up for grabs. For the first time in his V8 career poor Scotty couldn't get a break - qualified on pole for one race, but didn't even get to start thanks to engine troubles. Led on Sunday for a third of the race, only to fall afoul of more engine gremlins and park it yet again. Clearly the speed was in the car, but he never got to use it.

More's the pity, we never got to see him late in the 200km Sunday race, with his rear tyres ratshit and Frosty playing the Jaws theme right behind him. What a race that could've been. Winterbottom finished all three races despite the high attrition, and more to the point, finished well ahead of where he started: for the first race of the weekend, he managed to come 7th despite starting from 23rd! And it looked like he could keep up that speed without lunching his tyres too, so if he'd started higher up it seems pretty clear he could have gone three-for-three and made the Winton 400 a sky-blue whitewash.

Image via Motorsport.com

I'll be delighted if this is a portent of things to come, but let's not get excited. If they moved the Italian GP to Fiorano (and with Ferrari's pace this year, they might), would anybody really be unable to predict the result? That's kind of the situation for Ford Performance Racing at Winton. FPR has a bigger testing budget than anyone except maybe HRT, and Winton is only an hour and a half from their factory in Campbellfield. FPR all but owns that track. It would be a bit premature to read much into Frosty's performance on a track where he's turned so many laps and recorded so much data.

So overall, there was plenty to celebrate at the Winton 400 - but in all cases the cheering comes with a definite asterisk.

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