Jim Beam Racing's James Courtney boosted his championship chances with victory in an interrupted and shortened race two of the Norton 360 Challenge at Sandown.
Courtney looked set to lose a little ground to his championship rivals as he ran behind both of them in the first half of the race. But a red flag just after half-distance, after Michael Caruso made contact with Will Davison at the end of the back straight and sent them both heavily into the tires in the same place as Tander yesterday, changed the complexion of the race.
Pole man Paul Dumbrell stayed out for a lap when most of the field pitted, and dropped from a top-five result to just inside the top 20. Meanwhile, Courtney got ahead of Whincup and recovered the ground he had lost to Mark Winterbottom early in the race.
When the race resumed, Courtney was on the attack, taking the lead from Winterbottom with 16 laps remaining and taking the win. Winterbottom then had Whincup to worry about, but kept him at bay, with Holdswort giving Whincup a hard time, failing by just 0.0042sec to take the place at the finish.
Steven Johnson and Tim Slade were among the big winners from the red flag, taking fifth and sixth after being 15th or worse beforehand. Paul Dumbrell recovered from dropping to 18th to take seventh, with Rick Kelly, Jonathan Webb and Greg Murphy completing the top 10.
After using the soft tires at the start of the race and opening a seven-second lead, Russell Ingall was the biggest loser from the red flag, losing out to the cars behind who were now on soft tires and charged straight past, Ingall eventually dropping to 13th by the checkered flag.
With just the final event at Homebush and 300 points remaining in two weeks' time, Courtney opened the margin back up a bit, 53 points ahead of Whincup, with Winterbottom still an outside chance 203 points back if both Whincup and Courtney strike trouble in one or both races.
Pos Driver Make Time
1. James Courtney Ford Falcon FG 1h51m43.6234s
2. Mark Winterbottom Ford Falcon FG + 1.5543s
3. Jamie Whincup Holden Commodore VE2 + 1.8574s
4. Lee Holdsworth Holden Commodore VE2 + 1.8616s
5. Steven Johnson Ford Falcon FG + 8.8961s
6. Tim Slade Ford Falcon FG + 8.9333s
7. Paul Dumbrell Ford Falcon FG + 11.6387s
8. Rick Kelly Holden Commodore VE2 + 12.9653s
9. Jonathon Webb Ford Falcon FG + 15.3507s
10. Greg Murphy Holden Commodore VE2 + 16.1227s
11. Craig Lowndes Holden Commodore VE2 + 20.6449s
12. Fabian Coulthard Holden Commodore VE + 25.5798s
13. Russell Ingall Holden Commodore VE2 + 26.5637s
14. Tony D'Alberto Holden Commodore VE2 + 27.5928s
15. Steven Richards Ford Falcon FG + 32.5498s
16. Andrew Thompson Holden Commodore VE + 34.3127s
17. Garth Tander Holden Commodore VE2 + 35.8038s
18. Dean Fiore Ford Falcon FG + 41.9568s
19. Todd Kelly Holden Commodore VE2 + 43.5908s
20. Jason Bargwanna Holden Commodore VE2 + 44.1410s
21. Alex Davison Ford Falcon FG + 44.3350s
22. Karl Reindler Holden Commodore VE + 1 laps
23. Tony Ricciardello Holden Commodore VE2 + 2 laps
24. Jason Bright Holden Commodore VE2 + 9 laps
Driver Make Laps
Shane van Gisbergen Ford Falcon FG 58
Andrew Jones Holden Commodore VE2 37
Will Davison Holden Commodore VE2 31
Michael Caruso Holden Commodore VE2 31
Warren Luff Holden Commodore VE2 19