BROC Feeney and Jamie Whincup have ensured Triple Eight maintains its Sandown 500 stranglehold after staving off arch-rivals Erebus Motorsport.
Feeney withstood intense pressure from Brodie Kostecki (#99/David Russell) after a late-race Safety Car to take the chequered flag by 0.9816s.
Feeney becomes the youngest Sandown 500 winner in history, while it’s Whincup’s sixth in the historic event – including three in succession (having been victories in 2018 with Paul Dumbrell and in 2019 with Craig Lowndes).
As expected, almost the entire field put their co-driver in for the race start, which was delayed to 2:30pm due to barrier repairs on the back straight following a dramatic Super2 crash.
In fact, Craig Lowndes (#888/Zane Goddard) and Aaron Love (#7/Jake Kostecki) were the only designated primaries on the starting grid, out of 23rd and 27th respectively.
Unlike the chaotic scenes which marred the opening stanza of the 2022 Bathurst 1000, the co-drivers took a calm and collected approach as pole-sitter Jack Perkins (#9/Will Brown) beat Erebus Motorsport stablemate Russell in the race to the first corner.
The early aggressors were Jamie Whincup (#88/Broc Feeney) and Garth Tander (#26/David Reynolds), who each gained four positions within a handful of laps to be running first and fourth.
Whincup moved into the lead with a clean lunge down the inside of Perkins at Turn 1 on Lap 5, and from there he managed the gap at the best part of a second.
The first big moment saw Zak Best (#5/James Courtney) lose out.
It had already been a bad start for the Tickford Racing co-driver, who dropped from 14th to 26th in the opening two laps.
Soon after, Best found himself spun at the exit of Turn 1 after making contact with Love.
Two large gaps quickly emerged in the pack, behind fifth-placed James Moffat (#6/Cam Waters) and 15th-placed Richie Stanaway (#97/Shane van Gisbergen).
Then came a seismic early twist, severely affecting the leading two Fords on the track.
The catalyst was the left-rear wheel of Tander’s Penrite Mustang suddenly coming loose as he navigated The Esses on Lap 19, sending the five-time Bathurst 1000 winner spinning at high speed into the Dandenong Road gravel trap.
“I felt on the lap before that something was either bending or going on in the left-rear,” said Tander.
“At no point did I think the wheel was loose, and I didn’t get any alarms on the dash that the tyre was down. The bit of surveying I did after was that the tyre was off the car but the tyre was flat; I don’t know what happened first.”
What’s more, the stray wheel ripped the rear wing off an unsuspecting Moffat behind in a freak incident.
“I saw Garth have the failure. He was just pirouetting down the hill there; it was a bit of a Days of Thunder moment for me, just with all the smoke,” Moffat later reflected.
“Just before I got to Dandy Road, as he was off to the right, I did hear a bit of a thud, but not for the life of me did I think that the wheel had clipped the rear wing.
“I knew straight away that I had damage. I’ve had some weird stuff happen to me, but that’s got to be right up there.”
The entire field pitted under Safety Car conditions, and amid the traffic, Erebus had a win by getting Perkins back out in front of Whincup.
Russell, by contrast, was one of several cars to double stack and plummeted to 10th.
With the field neutralised, Moffat and Lee Holdsworth (#25/Chaz Mostert) – who had sustained rear-end damage – pitted a total of three times for repairs but did manage to stay on the lead lap.
By the Lap 26 restart, the order ran: Perkins, Whincup, Michael Caruso (#18/Mark Winterbottom), Kevin Estre (#19/Matt Payne), Tim Blanchard (#3/Todd Hazelwood), Alex Davison (#17/Will Davison), Garry Jacobson (#55/Thomas Randle), Jordan Boys (#96/Macauley Jones), Tyler Everingham (#56/Declan Fraser) and Russell.
Both the #11 Dick Johnson Racing Mustang (Anton De Pasquale/Tony D’Alberto) and #14 Brad Jones Racing Camaro (Bryce Fullwood/Dean Fiore) resumed with five-second penalties hanging over their heads following pitstop infringements.
A big lock-up made Boys vulnerable and he was forced to pit again on Lap 27.
As the countdown drew closer to the 54-lap minimum quota needing to be completed by co-drivers, the impressive Estre passed Caruso for third, Whincup reclaimed the lead once more from Perkins on Lap 41, and Russell charged back through to sixth.
Moffat’s day went from bad to worse when he was spun by Dylan O’Keeffe (#31/James Golding) at Turn 1 on Lap 46 in a clash that went unpenalized.
Three laps prior, Lowndes had survived a major scare after he and Jaylyn Robotham (#35/Cameron Hill) had made light high-speed contact through the kink on the back straight.
A third Tickford car was in the wars before one-third distance, with Jacobson pulling into the garage with steering damage following contact with D’Alberto.
Around came Lap 55 and the pitlane got busy again, as nearly every primary driver took over for the remainder.
Once the full cycle had played out, Feeney led from a slightly out-of-sequence Jayden Ojeda (#34/Jack Le Brocq), with Brown a tad more over five seconds off the lead.
At that point, it was a Camaro-dominated leaderboard – down to incidents more so than parity – with fourth-placed Payne the Blue Oval’s only representative in the top 10.
Behind was Kostecki, Winterbottom, Tim Slade (#23/Jonathon Webb), Lowndes, Andre Heimgartner (#8/Dale Wood) and van Gisbergen in 10th.
Brown overhauled Ojeda, who stayed third until blotting his copybook on his in-lap as he speared off at Turn 9. He was at least able to rejoin in seventh and immediately hand the car over to Le Brocq.
Lowndes continued to thrive, moving up into sixth having already caught and passed full-timer Slade on merit.
Kostecki made it an Erebus two-three once more with a Lap 79 overtake on Payne, while out in front Feeney’s advantage had stretched ever so slightly to 6.3s.
As the first primary driver stint wore on, van Gisbergen climbed and climbed.
By the end of Lap 84 he was up to fifth after passing Heimgartner, Lowndes and Winterbottom in quick succession.
Brown was the first of the front-runners to stop in the next cycle, on Lap 87.
He re-emerged in traffic behind a battling Mostert and Scott Pye (#20/Warren Luff), which proved costly as Feeney’s lead ballooned to 13 seconds after the completion of his next stop on Lap 90.
Running longer than his rivals as he typically does, van Gisbergen was the last of the front-runners to make a penultimate visit to the lane on Lap 97.
Entering the final 50 laps, Feeney’s lead over Brown stood firm at 12 seconds with Kostecki lurking not far behind and van Gisbergen making it all four championship contenders in the top four.
Rounding out the top 10 now was Payne, Heimgartner, Will Davison, Goddard, De Pasquale and Winterbottom, who was set back by a five-second time penalty for exceeding track limits. Further back, Mostert and Waters were still circulating down in 20th and 25th.
By Lap 118, all eyes were on the converging Coca-Cola Camaros, with Kostecki pressuring Brown.
The next time around, Brown ceded position in a show of fine teamwork, albeit leaving him exposed to a potential double stack situation.
But with reliability proving a non-factor and incidents at a minimum, the coast remained clear in the run to the final stops.
Feeney’s margin was back to 13.7s ahead by the time Kostecki peeled into the pits on Lap 125, becoming the first contender to blink.
Brown was in the next time around, rejoining with a three-second deficit to his teammate while Triple Eight pressed on.
Van Gisbergen and Feeney then stopped on Lap 129 and 130, respectively.
Feeney’s advantage now was down to 8.8s – but van Gisbergen had closed to within five seconds of Brown in a condensed top four as the wait for another Safety Car intervention persisted.
Approaching 20 laps to go, the top four were covered by just 12 seconds, with Kostecki less than six behind Feeney.
And then came the inevitable late curveball, Hill becoming beached in the Turn 9 gravel trap after a steering failure, sparking the Safety Car’s deployment on Lap 140 of 161. Hill had been running 14th at the time.
Everyone in the top 15 resisted the temptation to come in for fresh tyres, but a grandstand finish was on the cards.
At the Lap 144 restart, it was Feeney from Kostecki, Brown, van Gisbergen, Heimgartner, Payne, Davison, De Pasquale, Slade and Goddard in 10th with the field nose-to-tail.
Fortunately for Feeney, Golding was positioned between he and Kostecki at the restart, allowing him some breathing room on the run into Turn 1.
Moreover, Feeney’s time to defend was reduced as it became apparent that the race would go time certain, at one lap after 5:53pm (due to Sandown’s mandated 6pm engine curfew).
The #88 driver though came under intense pressure, only just hanging on through Lap 148 by the barest of margins.
But as Kostecki unsuccessfully showed the nose at Turn 4, Feeney wriggled away a touch.
Pushing hard to the end, Feeney held his nerve to keep Kostecki at bay as the race ended three laps early.
Erebus missed out on a double podium after Brown made a late error through The Esses, allowing van Gisbergen to sneak by.
Behind Brown in fourth, the rest of the top 10 order remained unchanged.
The only other three drivers on the lead lap were Winterbottom, Courtney and Fraser.
Mostert crossed the line in 19th but was demoted to 22nd by virtue of a 15-second penalty for spinning Fraser.
Next up is the Repco Bathurst 1000, where Kostecki will enter with a 155-point championship lead over van Gisbergen.
RESULTS: 2023 Sandown 500
|Broc Feeney / Jamie Whincup
|Brodie Kostecki / David Russell
|Shane van Gisbergen / Richie Stanaway
|Will Brown / Jack Perkins
|Andre Heimgartner / Dale Wood
|Matthew Payne / Kevin Estre
|Will Davison / Alex Davison
|Anton De Pasquale / Tony D’Alberto
|Tim Slade / Jonathon Webb
|Zane Goddard / Craig Lowndes
|Mark Winterbottom / Michael Caruso
|James Courtney / Zak Best
|Declan Fraser / Tyler Everingham
|Bryce Fullwood / Dean Fiore
|James Golding / Dylan O’Keeffe
|Jack Le Brocq / Jayden Ojeda
|Todd Hazelwood / Tim Blanchard
|Jack Smith / Jaxon Evans
|Chaz Mostert / Lee Holdsworth
|Macauley Jones / Jordan Boys
|Cam Waters / James Moffat
|Scott Pye / Warren Luff
|Nick Percat / Fabian Coulthard
|Aaron Love / Jake Kostecki
|Thomas Randle / Garry Jacobson
|Cameron Hill / Jaylyn Robotham
|David Reynolds / Garth Tander
V8 Sleuth’s coverage of the 2023 Penrite Oil Sandown 500 is proudly presented by Biante – Fuel your passion with winning model cars. Visit Biante here to check out their range of model cars in a range of scales from 1:64 to 1:10.