THE SENSATIONAL ADELAIDE 500 - by Neil Blackbourn, Australia
The streets of Adelaide once again reverberated to the noise of some full-on racing cars, and this time around for the former GP circuit of nine years, the V8 Supercars would be the stars of the show. The thundering V8's would dispense with the regular three 20 minute (approx.) races and would instead hit the track for qualifying on Friday, with a top 10 shootout to decide the top order's starting position for the first 250km race on Saturday. The race would be driven solo. And if that wasn't enough boys, they had to come back to do it all again on Sunday. And the finishing order from the Saturday race would decide the grid for Sunday. Win on Saturday, start first on Sunday. DNF Saturday, start last on Sunday!
So the grid was full, more than the allowable 40 starters tried for those positions on the grid. The top 10 shootout looked as though it would follow the script for the Holden racing Team drivers Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife and their TWR prepared Holden Commodores. But they didn't bank on the new Ford Falcon AU of last year's Bathurst winner Jason Bright to sneak in and take pole. Castrol team-mates Larry Perkins and Russell Ingall were not too far behind, while the Ford factory team cars were in the top 10, Neil Crompton in the older model Falcon EL in front of the boss, Glenn Seton in his new AU Falcon.
Adelaide is a tough place, and despite the main straight being shortened a little (by cutting out three corners), the circuit was basically the tough car breaking, driver energy sapping place it used to be. And they had two solo 250km races in front of them. Traffic would play a major role, and Wayne Gardner found this out early on. He was spun from behind on the first lap by ex teammate Crompton, and went toward the tail of the field. A couple of laps later and he tried an ambitious pass on a Falcon and tangled. Out of race one, but he would return (at the back!) for Sunday. Maybe he shouldn't have - it was the same sort of race for the ex 500cc motorcycle champ!
Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife took turns in harassing Bright, until Lowndes went by Skaife and then caused a melee by taking a backmarker out from behind causing the luckless Danny Osborne to hit a wall at near on 200km/h. In fact, this meant that Lowndes had to give up his win in the first race and start the second from the back. Did this deter the young Victorian? No. He came back to pass the 39 other starters, overcoming heat and exhaustion that saw at least three drivers carried from their cars prior to race end. Young West Australian wild-man Garth Tander was third for a long time until incorrectly black-flagged. He still finished third - a great effort - which he was to repeat on the second day. Tander's teammate in the Rogers Motorsport Valvoline team Jason Bargwanna will need to find some speed if he is to catch Tander this year. And at the moment Jason has the new car and Garth the old model Commodore!
The Wynns Commodores, prepared by the wily team boss Fred Gibson were giving New Zealander Greg Murphy and the other half of last year's Bathurst winning team Steven Richards a great run. Up in the top 10 all weekend, Murphy actually left Adelaide leading the championship, and he is yet to lead a race let alone win one! More work is planned to bring the Wynn's cars up to speed in qualifying, to assist in actually starting the races in a high position! The other Kiwi in the field, ex BTCC racer Paul Radisich, moved from his back of the field start on Sunday (after a sensational drive on Saturday was spoiled by a gearbox failure) to eighth. But that was as far as he would go - fatigue from the high cockpit temperatures causing him to pull out near the end. His team boss Dick Johnson also started from the back after DNF'ing on the first attempt, but finished 10th on Sunday - not bad for a 52 year old! So Lowndes won race two, and later in the week also won race one, when his appeal against his loss of points from the first race was upheld. His teammate Mark Skaife finished second overall on the weekend - he intends to take the series right up to Lowndes in '99.
So the circus once again moves on - this time across the legendary Nullabor Plain about 2,500kms to Perth, Western Australia (where I live at the moment) for races in two weeks time. Images and stories from me then.
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