Lewis Hamilton could continue to “take a knee” at Formula One races – saying he does not want the fight against racism to die a silent death – as Daniel Ricciardo reacted to the six drivers electing not to do so in Austria.
It was the final Enduro Cup event of 2019 and the final endurance race to be held at this historic venue and, as always, the Sandown 500 did not fail to deliver excitement and plenty of controversy.
Championships were won, penalties were dished out and an old couple – in true retro fashion – went on a classic Sunday drive to win the endurance event. Here in detail are the talking points from a massive Sandown 500.
Whincup and Lowndes are Enduro Cup champions
The most hyped combination in the 2019 Enduro Cup have emphatically won the season of endurance, with Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes winning their first Sandown 500 in 12 years as well as their maiden Enduro Cup as a pair.
Whincup and Lowndes came into the final race of the enduros with a 36-point deficit to Red Bull Holden Racing teammates Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander, but they emerged victorious after starting the 500-kilometre race from pole position.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the No. 888 Holden Commodore, though, as on lap 133 Whincup was passed by Van Gisbergen, who in his No. 97 car was the fastest on the day. The seven-time Supercars champion then came out of the final round of pit stops ten seconds behind the Kiwi.
But one last twist of fate saw Van Gisbergen cruelly drop out of the lead of the race, handing the lead back to Whincup, who then won his fifth Sandown 500 and Lowndes his sixth, equalling the recently turned 80-year-old Allan Moffat’s record.
With the win, the Triple Eight duo also secured their first Enduro Cup as a pairing. It was back-to-back endurance titles for Lowndes, as well as his third overall and Whincup’s second.
After missing out on the podium at the Bathurst 1000, Whincup and Lowndes were strong at the Gold Coast 600 and won on the Saturday before finishing as the runners-up on Sunday. Then the pair secured maximum points at Sandown en route to the Enduro Cup overall victory.
Tander and Van Gisbergen’s day goes unrewarded
Following a disastrous Saturday qualifying race in which the 2016 Supercars champion dropped to the back of the field after a clash with Anton de Pasquale, Van Gisbergen and Tander’s epic drive in the 161-lap Sunday enduro ultimately went unrewarded, with a right-rear tyre failure cruelling them.
Tander was given the key role of starting the 500-kilometre race from 24th on the grid and immediately got to work, passing a handful of cars in the opening laps. In total the three-time Bathurst 1000 winner made up 22 places in his 72-lap stint before handing the car over to Van Gisbergen.
Then, as detailed above, after taking the lead from teammate Whincup with the chequered flag near, the tyre failure dropped the No. 97 Commodore two laps off the leader and out of contention for the win and Enduro Cup.
As much as the Whincup and Lowndes pairing gets the hype and plaudits, Van Gisbergen and Tander have been equally if not more impressive across this Enduro Cup. They finished runners-up at Bathurst before being denied the win on Saturday at the Gold Coast due to team orders, which was followed by their own win on Sunday.
Both are hard racers, and Tander, who had his full-time Supercars career ended coming into 2019, has been able to outmuscle most of the co-drivers on the current grid during his stints.
Their loss on the podium was also Tickford’s gain, with two of their cars finishing on the podium, 20 seconds behind the leading car of Whincup. Chaz Mostert and James Moffat finished second as some recompense for their difficult Enduro Cup, while Lee Holdsworth broke his drought of podium dating back to 2014 by finishing third with debutant Thomas Randle, who’s been impressive throughout the season of endurance.
Scott McLaughlin wins the championship but loses Bathurst pole
Much of the Enduro Cup has been spent discussing and debating the fallout from the Bathurst 1000, where Shell V-Power Racing were found to have manipulated team orders which saw Fabian Coulthard back up the field behind the safety car to ensure his teammate wasn’t compromised in the pit stops.
Massive sanctions were laid down to the team ahead of the Gold Coast 600, which ended up being a difficult weekend for DJR Team Penske and championship leader Scott McLaughlin, especially when he wrote off his Bathurst-winning Ford Mustang during qualifying on Sunday.
But the investigations did not stop there, with news having broken on the morning of the Sandown 500 that the No. 17 Mustang had breached an engine regulation at Bathurst during qualifying and the top-ten shootout by exceeding the maximum permitted valve lift.
As a result, a $30,000 fine was handed down to the team, along with disqualification from the Bathurst 1000 qualifying sessions. Impacting the Sandown 500 was the fact that McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat were sent to the back of the grid for the 161-lap race.
Further staining their Bathurst 1000 victory, the pair were focussed on purely being classified as finishers on Sunday at Sandown, with any points scored enough to secure McLaughlin back-to-back Supercars championships.
The 26-year-old indeed achieved the title double with a round to spare thanks to his ninth-place finish, albeit with rather subdued celebrations in the circumstances.
Bathurst aside, 2019 has been a record-breaking year for McLaughlin. The Kiwi has so far won 18 races – surpassing the number set by Lowndes in 1996 for most wins in a single season – as well as claiming 16 pole positions.
Weather breeds qualifying race chaos
The Sandown 500’s unique Saturday qualifying format has always turned heads, and while this year may have been the final enduro at the suburban Melbourne circuit, it was perhaps the most memorable qualifying.
Both ‘sprint for the grid’ races were affected by the fickle Melbourne weather and caused a shake-up of the field, with plenty of chaos ensuing.
In the provisional qualifying session McLaughlin had put his freshly built Shell V-Power Mustang on pole, though in the first co-driver-only race Premat bogged down at the start and was buried in the pack while Lowndes led away.
Premat was then thought to have been involved in James Moffat’s dogged run in the co-driver race, where the Frenchman cut across the reprofiled section at the rear of the circuit, which left the Supercheap Auto racer in the clutches of Tickford teammate Thomas Randle.
There was then contact between Moffat and Randle at turn one, with the former having dropped a wheel on the slippery kerbing, trying to avoid Premat, and as a result going to the rear of the field.
Bryce Fullwood, who co-piloted the No. 7 Plus Fitness Nissan Altima that started the 500-kilometre race from the front row on Sunday, survived a spectacular 360-degree spin at turns three and four during that co-driver race, having been under pressure from Will Brown in the Erebus.
The chaos didn’t stop there, as during the second 20-lap quali race, which saw the main drivers behind the wheel, Van Gisbergen at the first corner escorted off the second-placed Erebus Commodore of De Pasquale.
In a controversial stewards decision De Pasquale was handed a penalty despite it being clear from the TV images that Van Gisbergen was the driver at fault. Following the qualifying race, driving standards advisor Craig Baird addressed the media and admitting to making a fault in the decision.
A handful of drivers also made up significant ground as a result of the mixed conditions, chief among them Mostert, who ended up ninth from the rear of the field, and the wildcard Kostecki Brothers Racing, steered by cousin Brodie.
Vale Mike Raymond
The weekend begun on a sad note with the news that legendary Aussie motorsport commentator Mike Raymond had passed away after battling pneumonia at the age of 76.
Regarded as pioneer broadcaster, especially on the Australian touring car scene, Raymond was the subject of many tributes across the Sandown 500 weekend, none more touching than that of his protege and current Supercars commentary stalwart Neil Crompton.
As a producer at Channel Seven, Raymond pioneered the first-ever ‘race-cam’, which brought viewers iconic images and audio from the likes of Dick Johnson and Peter Brock behind the wheel while racing at places such as Bathurst.
Raymond also played a key role along with Seven in 1993 in the beginning of what eventually became the V8 Supercars championship, morphing the incumbent touring car series in Australia into a V8-only category with only Ford and Holden as the manufacturers.
A thoroughly deserved inductee in the Australian motorsport hall of fame last year, Raymond set the landscape for motorsport broadcasting in Australia today and without his work, the current product may not be what it is.