Today the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship made its return to the race track with the BP Ultimate Sydney SuperSprint. After an almost four-month hiatus, the Championship returned with significant changes to engineering and race formats as well as personnel restrictions, providing a big challenge to teams and an exciting spectacle for Supercar fans right around the world.
Part of the changes for Supercars’ return to the race track is a two-day race meeting format with two back-to-back practice sessions before heading into Qualifying for Race One.
In Practice One, Rick Kelly and André Heimgartner jumped behind the wheel of their Ford Mustang Supercars for the first time in fifteen weeks to shake off the cobwebs. André led the way in the NED Whisky Racing Mustang finishing in ninth spot. Rick wasn’t too far behind in the Castrol Mustang in fourteenth. Both drivers were able to improve slightly in Practice Two only thirty-minutes later. André finished P8 and Rick P10.
The team then got set for a three-part qualifying session with two ten-minute sessions followed by a Top-15 Shootout. Both drivers easily made it through to the second part of qualifying but lost time on their final flying laps. Rather than burn up another set of tyres attempting a second flying lap, both sides of the garage decided to sit tight. The gamble paid off for Rick who finished P15 but André was just pipped in the end to finish P16.
Rick was first car out in the Top-15 shootout and was poised for his best lap of the day, however he exceeded track limits at Turn Five and had his lap discounted. Rick qualified P15 and André P16 for Race One.
Race One of the weekend was a 32-lap event with one pit stop. With the regulation changes for this weekend, there was no refuelling and only two rattle guns on the car at once, making tyre strategy an interesting point of debate.
Both drivers had reasonably good starts to the race, picking up one spot each from their qualifying positions. Rick and André both settled in for a long first stint on tyres, but spent a long time in traffic behind a struggling Fabian Coulthard. The cars had the pace to run further up the field but navigating traffic proved tricky.
Rick and André ran the whole race in formation finishing P14 and P15 respectively. Tomorrow the team returns for two more qualifying sessions followed by two 32-lap races.
André Heimgartner, #7 NED Racing
“Obviously really happy to be back in my NED Whisky Ford Mustang and get a full day of driving, it feels great to be back. I think overall we had pretty good pace, we were quick in practice, unfortunately I wasn’t able to maximise the lap on green tyres in qualifying and just missed out on the Top-15 Shootout. If we bolted another set on and went again we probably could have done better but then you burn up another set of tyres when we already are really limited.”
“In the race we went for a longer first stint on tyres, which ultimately hurt us because we were stuck in traffic for the majority of the race and couldn’t really press on and move up through the field.”
“There’s plenty we can work on for tomorrow to try and get the car better suited for the track grip levels, so we’ll see how we go but overall just really happy to be back behind the wheel.”
Rick Kelly, #15 Castrol Racing
“It’s great to get the first day done back in the Castrol Mustang, it’s something that I’ve been really looking forward to after fifteen weeks off. The track is super aggressive here with low grip and high tyre degradation, which makes it really unique and hard to setup for.”
“I don’t think we maximised the grip for the track conditions today. It obviously didn’t help that my shootout lap was disqualified for exceeding track limits, we probably had the pace to start a little further up the grid but that was caused by the car not being ideal for the conditions.”
“We battled away in the race, the longer stint definitely didn’t help us, the cars in the mid pack that stopped early ended up a fair bit in front of us after we spent quite a bit of time stuck behind Fabian and Bryce.”
“We know what we need to work on, so looking forward to tomorrow.”