ITM Auckland 500 round-up


Words by Jayden Stirrup
Photos by Christian Hartung

It was a day to remember them, and remember them we did. Race 10 kicked off the Anzac day clash for national pride, with Jason Bright and Shane Van Gisbergen taking a New Zealand one-two finish on the podium.

Whincup was out and leading on lap one, but was not far ahead of Bright and Van Gisbergen, closing the gap fast in second and third. Tander was the big winner in the opening laps gaining six positions, and it wasn’t long before T10 saw some action with Wall making heavy contact into a barrier after some pushing and shoving by Chaz Mostert through the sweeper.

Following a safety car deployed for the Wall incident, the lead pack at lap 10 was Whincup, Bright, and Van Gisbergen in third, but changes were coming with Whincup reporting major power steering issues causing him to run wide on the track and forcing him into pit lane for extensive repairs. With Whincup out of contention, Bright took the lead and got out to 1.2s ahead of fellow Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen. Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander were the next drivers to test the boundaries of Pukekohe Raceway, locked in a tight Anzac battle on lap 18. McLaughlin had a good look on T8 and turn five of the next lap but ran short, forcing him to shortcut and rejoin at turn seven. McLaughlin broke back in and got the job done with less than 15 laps to go.

With just 10 laps to go, Bright and Van Gisbergen hadn’t moved from the top and the race looked to be a time certain finish, 32 plus one laps. Lap 30 of 35 the top five still hadn’t changed, and with Jason Bright commencing his final lap soon after, he came home to the first victory of the weekend making it 1-0 to New Zealand.

James Courtney was the grid starter for race 11, but Frosty had taken first by T1, making the lap one top five Winterbottom, Courtney, Whincup, Mostert, and Percat. Jamie Whincup was out wide onto the grass and was told to steady on for another lap in what was a rare mistake by the Red Bull Driver. Slade and Bright were also in a heated battle for P9 further afield. Turn six is where it happened with both Slade and Bright coming together forcing the number 47 Holden off onto the grass, as well as forcing both cars into the pits, Slade for repairs, and Bright for a questionable PLP.

The lap 10 leaders had come over the start line with Winterbottom still out in front, but out of nowhere Robert Dahlgren in the S60 came across the start line smoking from the rear and inside. Told to park it, the number 34 car was abandoned at the exit of pit lane so the race could continue, however a safety car was eventually deployed until it was cleared.

Lap 15 and the young gun Scott McLaughlin was locked in another battle with Jack Perkins going at it for P5, eventually gaining the position from his fellow young V8 driver. Percat was falling down the grid, being passed by Van Gisbergen shortly after and also feeling the pressure from David Reynolds in the Bottle-O Ford.

With less than 10 laps to go, McLaughlin was again looking on the inside of Jamie Whincup, setting up another battle between master and apprentice, but couldn’t get the job done, also losing a spot to Van Gisbergen in the later stages.

Jason Bright wasn’t deterred by his PLP, screaming back onto the track and rubbing panels with Kelly for twelfth position, with just over 5 laps to go. The end stages saw no change to the leader board, with Mark Winterbottom taking first, James Courtney coming in second, and young Chaz Mostert taking third for the second race of the weekend.

The Kiwis did it again, taking first and third in race 12 at Pukekohe Raceway. Fans watched on as Whincup took P1 from McLaughlin straight off the start line on lap one, only making McLaughlin more determined to take a win on home soil.  Jason Bright had some more bad luck coming off and hitting the wall at T4, pushing him back in the field and rendering him out of contention for Saturday’s racing, as well as causing a safety car.

Lap five we saw McLaughlin out in front, closely followed by Whincup and Van Gisbergen in second and third, but it wasn’t long before Van Gisbergen got by the number one Red Bull, making it a 1-2 Kiwi race. Three laps later Van Gisbergen was on the charge again, looking to overtake the lead from McLaughlin, and got it down leaving the Volvo driver unhappy as his first victory slowly faded away.

With twenty laps remaining Van Gisbergen was consolidating his lead, forcing McLaughlin to fight hard to stay in contention, as well as fighting Whincup who was right on his tail. It was then Frosty’s turn to take a charge, getting by Whincup and closing the gap on McLaughlin to just 0.6s. Winterbottom was all over McLaughlin’s bumper, leaving the field open for the VIP Pet Foods car to gain a 3s lead on the rest of the pack. Winterbottom finally got P2 but was hard pressed to catch the unstoppable Kiwi in car 97.

In the dying stages, Whincup was again testing the skills of the 33 driver, but was unsuccessful, leaving the top five as Van Gisbergen, Winterbottom, McLaughlin, Whincup, and Tander. Van Gisbergen took out race 12 and in typical drifting style, he smoked up the track and the crowd in excitement to end Saturday’s racing spectacle.

Crowd favourite McLaughlin was in pole position for race 13 of the championship, holding P1 as the V8s completed their first lap of track. It wasn’t long before car 888 had to divert back to the pits, putting him further and further behind, but teammate Jamie Whincup was doing the opposite of Craig Lowndes, charging up three grid spots to put him back into contention.

Tim Slade, although qualifying second, was struggling with clutch issues, seeing him in the pits several times before lap five. Scott Pye and Fabian Coulthard were locked in a battle coming into turn one, with Pye managing to make the move count, and Robert Dahlgren was off the track at T4, spinning but causing relatively minor damage.

With the pressure building, especially following Saturday’s third position, McLaughlin was out to a 2s lead over Van Gisbergen, just a little over 10 laps in. With 49 laps to go, and thanks to Van Gisbergen and Winterbottom pitting, Scott was still in P1, Reynolds had moved up to P2, and Scott Pye had taken 3rd. Car 33 was next to pit and managed to retake to the track with another 2s lead over Mark Winterbottom, the man who pipped him on Saturday.

Car 97 was having some problems, with Van Gisbergen reporting poor tyre grip and also high-speed understeer, but was forced to tough it out for a few more laps. Lowndes was also having similar problems, struggling with tyre life and turning around this unforgiving circuit.

Winterbottom was again closing the gap, leaving just 0.6s between him and the Kiwi in the Volvo, and kept closing in as the laps went on. With just 0.2s between the pair, both pit and it was then a pit crew race to see who would take the lead. It was a matter of a few litres of fuel, but Winterbottom won the race in pit lane, just getting the jump on the local boy.

Reynolds was in trouble, blowing a rear-left tyre. Tander was in pit lane getting a quick set of tyres and a splash of fuel, and with just 24 to go, it was Coulthard in the lead, Perkins right behind him, and Ingall in third. Once all cars had hit the pits, it was back to a familiar site, Winterbottom leading the pack and consolidating his lead over the 33 S60, growing it to 1.6s.

Jamie Whincup and Jack Perkins found themselves weaving in between barriers, missing turn five/six, blue flags were waiving for car 21 with Dale Wood and McLaughlin was building a stronger lead on Scott, out to 5.2s with less than 10 laps to go.

With the final lap under way, the top order remained the same, seeing Mark Winterbottom taking out not only race 13 of the championship, but also the JR Trophy.

Auckland has put on another amazing show at Pukekohe Raceway, with a record crowd attendance of over 128,000 people through the gates. Whether you’re from Australia or New Zealand, there is no doubt that the Anzac long weekend of racing has been one to remember.