Owner of 4 time V8 Supercar Champions SRT, Steve O’Connor was a distinctly unhappy man 24 hours before the green flag dropped at Bathurst. Having lost his star driver before Friday nights action to an emergency business commitment, O’Connor had pretty much given up on the Brock Trophy for another year.
That prestigious trophy is the only one missing from the SRT trophy cabinet and it was looking unlikely with only the one car about to score points.
But then as so often in racing, strange things happen. Clarke was at the track and suited up ready to jump into the #69 Caltex Ford Falcon. You could sense the change in the atmosphere within SRT, would this be the year at this most hallowed of tracks?
Stuart Potier aboard the DSA Holden was the form man. Taking out the win in the first round at Sandown and dipping into the 2:02’s in the practice week, it was going to take something special to beat the new DSA driver.
Qualifying was fast and furious with the usual suspects of Potier, Clarke, Kinmond, Stevens, Cocks and Bert Van J throwing it down for Pole.
Potier in imperious form threw the knockout blow, the only driver dipping into the 2:02’s with a scintillating 2:02.808 some 0.402 seconds quicker than Clarke. Kinmond, Stevens, Cocks and Van J rounded out the top 6. O’Connor in a rare appearance in the #96 was best of the rest but 1.3 off in 7th.
Bruns, Bennet, Gossey, Dixon, Witherington and Duncan round out the field.
As the lights went green Clarke made the most of his starting position on the grippier side of the track and lead into turn 1 with Potier dropping in behind ahead of a fast starting Dan Stevens in the #1 Commodore.
The first few laps were close with Potier keeping the Caltex car in close sight. But the real action was happening behind with the #55 very keen to get past the Stevens car. There were several touches and a few words exchanged on the team radios, Stevens was ready to repel boarders. With history between Kinmond and Stevens we were on the edge of our seats, especially when Kinmond took to the grass on Conrod straight at one point. 555 team manager Gavin Cocks was on the radio reminding them it was way too early for that kind of pushing. Those of us watching were willing them on. It was some fantastic driving from both and neither ended in the wall.
Bathurst does strange things to a driver, the will to win here is strongest and the #55 and #1 put on a hell of a show.
Further down, one driver was out already, O’Connor in the #96 had made a relatively decent start and had fought his way back past Bruns, but heading into Skyline on lap 3, the #96 jinked to the right under braking and tagged the wall. O’Connor kept it on the right to avoid bouncing into the field, but the unsighted Bennet had no chance to react as he was on the same line and rear ended the Ford. Bennet was straight in for repairs on the next lap. O’Connor however was carrying damage and under braking for the cutting all hell broke loose. #96 went onto the grass and at unabated speed hit the wall on the other side. The engine was gone. O’Connor climbed from the wreck and cursed his luck. This incident was actually going to help SRT in the long run, but at the time O’Connor was angry, two starts and two early baths.
The race settled into a rhythm, but Clarke was the first to blink bringing the #69 in a lap earlier than the rest of the field. By now O’Connor was on the pitwall and looked bemused. To make matters worse the #46 of Van J was in as well. Potier had been beating everyone in the pits all year, if the SRT cars had to stop a lap earlier in every stint, this was going to be a long day. Potier, Stevens and Kinmond all pitted on the next lap. But it was a master stroke and it was the move that Clarke later referred to as the winning move, Clark came round putting 6 seconds on Potier. It was a lead he was only to relinquish once more in the pitstops.
Throughout the stints, it was like and elastic band between the DSA and the SRT car, Clarke would have a 5-6 second lead after each stop, Potier would close it down again as they headed for the pits. Both driver pitted together for the rest of the race, no-one was going to fall for the undercut again.
Somewhere after the first stops, Kinmond dropped the #55 and took off the front splitter. Thus ensued that longest of days at the Mountian, a recovery drive. Kinmond did well to bring it home in 5th, but it could have been so much more.
Througout the stints, the #1 car showed blistering pace, but on every other set of tyres, Stevens suffered. At two points in the race, he managed to get the car back up in front of Potier, but succumbed each time. Stevens was a man on a mission and must have put the fright on the DSA man both times. The #1 car followed up each blistering stint with an average one with an off in the final stages, he brought it home in 4th.
Two drivers who were largely quiet througout the race was the #46 of Bert Van J and the #5 of Gavin Cocks. 555 Team owner Cocks suffered varing technical issues throughout and eventually ran out of fuel on the final lap to grab a 6th place finish.
The #46 engaged stealth mode throughout the race and passed car after car through a combination of strategy and determined driving. Van J finished on the podium in third after the two hours, with one of the drives of his career so far in the SRT #46.
The last half an hour of the race was chaos on the pitwall with O’Connor and DSA team owner Troy Allen trying to run the numbers to get their cars to the finish. Once Stevens dropped the #1 car, the pressure was off for the #46 and O’Connor called the pit for the splash and dash to keep 3rd safe.
However it was a much different story with the Clarke car. O’Connor had asked both drivers to give him a 7 lap stint as some point in the race, neither car could. O’Connor knew that the #69 would have to pit. DSA’s Allen played the numbers and kept Potier out. However that necessitated two very slow laps, Potier also clipped the wall not helping the situation. We were stunned watching, Mr Smooth was human, only the second mistake we’ve seen all year from Stuart. That was the cue for SRT, #69 pitted with 2 to go and came back out 5 seconds of the slowing Potier. Clarke hunted his prey and pounced as soon as possible, #69 was through and onto the win.
Clarke later stated that it was one of the hardest races he has ever been in. Potier is relentless, he never gives up
The final results after two long hours:
It’s neck and neck in the overall points with Potier and Clarke tied, Kinmond, Van J and Stevens also tied. Onto the Goldcoast in a weeks time.