AS the leading light for Holden in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, the debut of the new ZB Commodore at the 2018 Adelaide 500 was of huge importance for Triple Eight Race Engineering and, as usual with the debut of a new car, the Queensland-based squad smashed it out of the park.
Kiwi ace Shane van Gisbergen clean-swept the wins to take his second straight overall Adelaide 500 crown and given the new model Commodore - the first based on the new European-sourced hatch - its debut victory in Supercars racing.
The lead-up to the event had been a huge undertaking for Triple Eight, building three brand new cars for itself - two for van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup under the Red Bull Holden Racing Team banner and one under the new Autobarn Lowndes Racing banner for Craig Lowndes - as well as a customer chassis for TEKNO Autosports.
The new cars remained powered by the team’s long-serving five-litre V8 engine and instantly proved weapon-fast on the bumpy and challenging 3.2-kilometre Adelaide street circuit for the opening event of the Supercars Championship.
van Gisbergen’s weekend was sublime, topping the Saturday Top 10 Shootout to go on and take pole position which he converted into victory at the end of the 250-kilometre opening race of the season. The Kiwi led 44 of 78 laps to sweep home first and take an instant championship lead.
He backed it up on the Sunday too, again topping the Top 10 Shootout and scoring yet another victory in Adelaide to mark his fourth straight race win on the street layout.
This time he led 32 laps, overcoming David Reynolds to take the lead in the closing stages and score the second win in a row for the new ZB Commodore.
“It's been a pretty amazing couple of years, four wins in a row and four shootouts in a row,” said van Gisbergen post-race.
“I'm not sure what it is about this place but I love driving it and we've had some pretty awesome races here.”
On the other side of the Red Bull HRT garage it was a case of mixed fortunes. Seven-time Supercars Champion Jamie Whincup gave his team plenty of work to do after clouting the concrete wall during Friday qualifying.
An all-night rebuild of his brand new car got him back onto the track on Saturday to finish a fighting sixth, though the Friday accident reared its head on Sunday when he was forced to retire from the lead with gearbox failure.
“A result of the crash was a cracked transaxle oil cooler that had been with us throughout the day and was slowly leaking oil, before running out completely and then we had no gearbox in the end,” said Whincup post-race.
“Unfortunately, that's motorsport but we'll go away happy with the speed that we showed.”
The third brand new car being run by the team was Lowndes’ #888 Autobarn Lowndes Racing entry, the three-time series champion lining up for an astonishing 20th straight season in the Supercars Championship.
Keen to bounce back after a tough 2017 season, Lowndes enjoyed a solid weekend to score ninth (from 15th on the grid) and seventh placed (from 17th on the grid) finishes in the pair of 250-kilometre races.
“I feel really comfortable in the car, it's the first time in a long time I've finished the Adelaide 500 in the shape that I have,” said Lowndes post-Race 2.
“The car is very easy to drive, it's a lot nicer to drive a car you don't have to hustle or manage, this car is doing everything I want it to, we just need to start a bit closer to the front. We've learnt a lot coming out of this weekend.”
The effort to produce three brand new cars in time for the start of a new Supercars season was indeed a huge one from all at Triple Eight Race Engineering, with an historic debut victory in Adelaide for the ZB Commodore the ultimate accolade.