Super-human in soaking Sydney Supercars

Dannemora’s Andre Heimgartner collected two top 10 finishes in round 9 of the 2021 Supercars Championship. Photo supplied

A pair of brilliant drives under lights at Sydney Motorsport Park has seen Andre Heimgartner, from Dannemora, come away with two top 10 finishes from a rain-soaked Sydney Motorsport Park.

Round 9 of the 2021 Supercars Championship, the Armor All Sydney SuperNight, saw three 32-lap races, with two under lights, as well as a return to knock-out qualifying.

Adding to the anticipation heading into the event, drivers were given two Dunlop tyre compounds which they had to use in each race, a soft and a hard, after being limited to one tyre the previous round.

“It was a mixed weekend. Obviously, we didn’t get it right with the tyres on Saturday but on Sunday we showed we could get the set-up right even if we didn’t have the outright pace of the front-runners,” said Heimgartner.

“It was about managing things, and we came through reasonably well in the tricky conditions. Driving in the rain at night was a new experience, and I’m glad we got through it with a reasonable result.”

Saturday

Qualifying and Race 23

A gamble on tyres for Saturday’s knock-out qualifying saw the #7 Ned Racing Mustang start 24th of the 26-car field. Despite strong race pace, Heimgartner completed only 22 laps before suffering damage as an victim of a tussle between Fabian Coulthard and Macauley Jones.

The contact from Jones into turn 2 saw steering damage to Heimgartner’s Kelly Grove Racing Mustang, putting him out of the race and ending a tough day.

Sunday

Qualifying

Sunday saw damp, dark conditions as the predicted rain drenched the Sydney Motorsport Park layout, throwing the tyre strategy out of the window. Heimgartner continued to show his wet-weather prowess as he steered the #7 Ned Racing Mustang to two top 10 starting spots.

The redemption from Saturday’s luckless drive started in the opening qualifying session with rain falling and the field on wet Dunlops. The pace was around 13-14 seconds slower than the previous day’s dry running with Heimgartner’s first flyer a 1:45.0711 and good enough for P11 at the time.

With conditions changing as the session was paused for a red flag, a dry line emerged around the circuit to see Heimgartner improve to a 1:45.0206 which would be his fastest time and earn him P8 on the grid for Race 24.

Race 25 qualifying saw conditions improve slightly, with Heimgartner keeping the same wet weather Dunlops on his Kelly Grove Racing Mustang, a strategy he used to score pole at Tailem Bend earlier in the year.

While hunting the leaders, Heimgartner posted a 1:44.2403 early before carving a full second from that, his final 1:42.7501 fifth fastest for Race 25, his highest start at Sydney Motorsport Park across six races so far in 2021.

“Our car was pretty stable. I think it lacked outright speed, but it was pretty comfortable and made it easy to predict what was going to happen,” Andre said. “It was all about managing things, like we did at Tailem Bend [where Heimgartner won in wet conditions].”

Race 24

Sunday’s first race saw a cracking start from Andre, who charged from seventh to third by the end of the second lap. The race, officially declared ‘wet’, meaning teams were permitted to use the wet Dunlop tyre, saw Heimgartner start on soft slick tyres.

“The conditions were sort of half-half; a bit wet, a bit dry in places, so definitely worth going a slick at this point,” said Heimgartner.

After his superb launch off the mark to poach sixth place into Turn 1, the #7 Ned Racing Mustang was in a three-car wide stand-off through Turn 2, which saw Heimgartner pick off Chaz Mostert and James Courtney before passing Bryce Fulwood for third place.

Settling into a comfortable rhythm, Heimgartner chipped away at second-place Shane van Gisbergen to be right on the rear bumper of championship, who pitted on lap 13 only 0.420sec ahead of Heimgartner, now in second place.

Heimgartner held out until Lap 23 to pit for hard tyres, as teams gambled on the storm clouds approaching the circuit – if rain fell, Andre was one of four cars yet to pit that would have been at a significant advantage.

The rain never came. Andre rejoined the track to finish in seventh place, where he started, but not after an intense battle with Mostert – who was on the softer tyre – that saw the pair make significant contact on several occasions in an entertaining bout that saw Heimgartner stay ahead.

Race 25

The final race of the weekend saw Heimgartner start from fourth place, after he was promoted one spot with the Mostert’s disqualification from qualifying for a technical infringement. It also brought torrential conditions, with rain falling as the race started for the slipperiest, most daunting night race yet at Sydney Motorsport Park.

The second-row start saw Heimgartner attack hard in the opening laps, with chaos in the challenging conditions despite every car running wet tyres.

A first-lap collision saw a safety car between Lap 2 and 6, with the green flag waved on Lap 7 and Andre passed by Tim Slade, before the Kiwi almost instantly took the position back to run seventh.

With rain continuing to fall on an already saturated track, Heimgartner drove superbly, cleverly using unconventional racing lines to find traction while withstanding immense pressure from both Cam Waters – whose mistake trying to pass the Kelly Grove Mustang saw him slip further back – and Todd Hazelwood.

With visibility deteriorating, and race officials declaring that the race would be time certain, Heimgartner was in sixth at half-race distance, climbing to P4 before pitting on Lap 20.

Heimgartner rejoined in 12th place, under pressure from Cam Waters, but settled into 10th once every car in the field had completed their compulsory pit stop.

On Lap 21, a second Safety Car stalled the on-track action and with strategies yet to play out – including Heimgartner’s – officials red-flagged the race and declared the result. Heimgartner in 10th recorded his second top 10 finish for the day

“The conditions were tough, but they were the same for everybody,” said Heimgartner.

“We’ve driven around the circuit in heat, cold and now wet weather, so heading into the next two rounds at Sydney Motorsport Park we have more knowledge and confidence. We know we’re in the mix.”

Heimgartner will be back behind the wheel of the #7 Ned Racing Mustang on Saturday, November 13, for 2021 BP Ultimate SuperSprint.