Fabian Coulthard wins bizarre race at Phillip Island 500
TWO words sum up the opening Supercars race of the WD-40 Phillip Island 500 weekend.
Punctures and penalties.
No two ways about it, Race 5 was downright bizarre. Fabian Coulthard won despite actually being second past the chequered flag.
Craig Lowndes actually finished the race first, but had 15 seconds added to his race time for crossing the dashed centre line as he entered pit lane for a pit stop.
He wasn't the only driver to get pinged - Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen and Mark Winterbottom all lost shots at winning for the same reason.
Officials pointed to a rule clarification delivered in a technical briefing earlier in the day, telling teams when drivers could and couldn't cross the dashed line.
"We didn't talk about it in the drivers' briefing," Lowndes said. "I'm not sure where it's come from."
Coulthard's day was hardly easy.
He led the early stages before puncturing a tyre right at the end of his first stint, dropping him into the midfield after having to limp around the entire circuit.
Like Lowndes, he wasn't alone either. Chaz Mostert, Scott Pye, James Moffat and a host of other suffered punctures - some more than twice.
Lap 1, Turn 1 set the tone.
Contact from Cam Waters sent David Reynolds wide on to the grass, sliding helplessly back across the track at Southern Loop and sending the field scattering, lucky not to get slammed in the drivers' door.
Lowndes was gathered up, along with both Kelly brothers - Todd continuing despite slamming heavily into a marshal's post - as well as James Courtney, Nick Percat, Lee Holdsworth and both GRM cars of James Moffat and Garth Tander.
The punctures started a few laps later. Waters copped two, as did Mostert, with little of the field untouched by punctures.
Coulthard was the highest-profile victim, but the turning point of the race had happened moments earlier.
McLaughlin, Winterbottom and Van Gisbergen all pitted at the start of that lap and all crossed that dastardly dashed line too soon. Their penalties would come progressively as video evidence was analysed, replays also snaring Simona De Silvestro, Lowndes, Holdsworth, Percat and Taz Douglas.
As yet more punctures afflicted the field, the shattered tyres left so much debris that a Safety Car had to be called to clean up the track.
The caution came just a couple of laps too soon for cars to fuel up and make it to the finish, but Van Gisbergen and Winterbottom came in anyway.
The extensive cleanup left the newly Vodafone-liveried Porsche Safety Car circulating for a few laps.
The delay encouraged Tander's crafty crew to bring him in repeatedly, topping off his fuel tank each time so that, by the time of the restart, he was the first car able to make it to the finish.
When racing resumed, SVG and Winterbottom both pitted to serve their penalties and take on fuel, while the rest of the key runners pitted when the Safety Car was sent out again after Waters served Courtney off at the penultimate corner.
McLaughlin's stop finally dropped him from the race lead to the end of the lead lap, but he was unable to serve his penalty as the Safety Car was out.
The subsequent restart was edgy. Almost half the field was a lap down and mingled in with the key runners.
Ahead of them all was Tander, hoping his head start and the slower cars would allow him to outrun a chasing pack armed with fresher tyres.
His savvy move fell a few minutes shy of causing a boilover.
Coulthard rounded him up a few laps from home, while Whincup made his way past too.
One final tyre failure put a full-stop on the day, Percat's second sending him slamming into Alex Rullo, costing the 16-year-old a possible 11th place finish.
Although Lowndes led the field to the chequered flag, his penalty dropped him to 11th place.
When the punctures and penalties settled, Coulthard took his second win on the bounce.
Whincup - the only lead car to suffer neither a puncture nor a penalty - pipped Tander to second place by a scant 0.091 of a second, while Van Gisbergen and Michael Caruso rounded out the top five.
Todd Kelly was next in sixth ahead of Bright, a late race lockup from Winterbottom dropping him to eighth.
Davison was initially declared ninth but a late-race tangle with Tim Slade saw him cop a 15-second penalty of his own, droping him to 13th place.
That elevated McLaughlin to ninth and Mostert to 10th - in spite of two punctures.
The penalised trio of Lowndes, De Silvestro and Davison were the only other cars on the lead lap.
Despite the knock-down, drag-out nature of the race, just four cars failed to finish.
Percat's car was done after his impact with Rullo, while the latter tried to limp his battered car to the chequered flag but failed to do so. A transaxle problem and suspension failure accounted for the Erebus duo of Reynolds and Dale Wood.
With much of the field looking like they've been through the bump-and-grind of a NASCAR short track race, virtually every team will have a busy night of repair work ahead of qualifying for Race 6 on Sunday morning.