Almost a month after their last race, the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks returned to action in Australia on Friday afternoon, racing at the Barbagallo Raceway. A support event for the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s Perth SuperSprint, it is SST’s first race on a closed circuit.
Sheldon Creed, who missed the Grand Prix of Long Beach race weekend to race in the ARCA Racing Series, returned to the series for Perth. Shaun Richardson also made his season debut after running six races in 2016. The Perth driver roster also featured SST newcomers in CAMS Australian Off Road Championship driver Beau Robinson and 17-year-old Dunlop Super2 Series driver Jake Kostecki.
Matt Brabham was the fastest qualifier, holding a .023 advantage over the second-fastest driver, Paul Morris. As a result of an inverted grid, the two drivers started at the rear of the grid, while Robinson (1:07.361) and Bill Hynes (1:06.163) occupied the top-two positions.
After just two laps, the first major wreck of the day occurred. Kostecki made contact with a truck while jumping off a ramp, turning the two. While the other went off-course before recovering, Kostecki was not as lucky, rolling his truck four times and losing a wheel before landing back on its wheels. Paul Morris attempted to avoid the flipping Kostecki, bumping into him slightly and continued on, while Kostecki was able to move his truck a few yards before coming to a stop.
Hynes led the most laps, but Creed, who started in 10th, moved his way up the field and went on to claim the victory, his 29th in SST. Travis Milburn finished 2nd to record his first career podium, followed by Paul Morris. Robby Gordon and Greg Gartner rounded out the top-5, followed by Hynes, Craig Dontas, Shaun Richardson, Robinson and Matt Brabham. Gavin Harlien and Kostecki did not finish the race.
Race #2, held on Saturday, saw an 11-truck grid as Kostecki elected to stay out for the remainder of the weekend. As a result, Harlien started on the pole and led the field early on. On lap two, Gartner and Dontas spun each other out. Gordon, who started 9th, sliced through the field and caught up to Harlien by the first competition caution on lap four. The green flag came out a lap later with Harlien as the leader.
On lap six, the second flip of the weekend took place when Dontas spun his truck. When the truck left the asphalt and reached the grass, it rolled over and rested on its roof. Track officials were able to roll his truck back on its wheels and he continued to race.
Dontas’ accident led to a caution that lasted until lap seven, which was a one-lap dash to the second competition caution on lap eight. The competition caution ended on lap nine as the duel for 1st between Harlien and Gordon reignited. Shortly after, Creed and Brabham – former Team Traxxas teammates – entered the picture, applying pressure to Gordon. On lap ten, Gordon bumped Harlien out of the way to take the lead. Behind the two, Brabham, Creed and eventually Paul Morris continued their fight for the final spot on the podium.
“They’re racing like whatever the opposite of a gentleman is,” commentator Sean Sermini remarked.
On the final lap, Gordon continued to lead, but Harlien remained in contention. As the two entered the last turn, Harlien attempted to pass Gordon on the inside, but was unable to hang on as Gordon claimed the victory. Brabham was able to pass Creed to take 3rd, followed by Morris as Creed dropped to 5th. Milburn and Gartner finished 6th and 7th, respectively, while Dontas was able to overcome his flip and finish 8th. Richardson, Robinson and Hynes closed out the remainder of the grid.
For the final race on Sunday, Richardson started 1st, while Gartner was ordered to the back of the field after losing his hood in Race #2; series rules maintain that any “incomplete” trucks – those without certain pieces of sheet metal following a race – are to be repaired and start at the rear for the next race (if it takes place at the same track).
Hynes, who started 2nd, had a great jump at the start to take the lead. After just two laps, Dontas suffered the same fate as Gartner, losing his hood, as did Richardson.
On lap five, Dontas flipped for the second race in a row. As he was side-by-side with Morris, Dontas did not have enough room on the track and the right side of his truck went off-road. The left side remained on the asphalt as the truck reached the aluminum ramp near the start/finish line, and the resulting momentum tilted his truck and rolled him onto his roof. The flip forced series officials to call for a red flag as workers, led by SST driver Matt Mingay’s brother Chris, worked to extract Dontas’ truck from the track.
Green flag racing resumed on lap six with Hynes leading Gordon. However, it was short-lived when Milburn flipped on lap seven; as he left a jump near the start/finish line (the same region where Dontas flipped), he made contact with Brabham, connecting the two trucks. The two drivers went off-course and Brabham was able to disconnect his truck, but Milburn wasn’t as lucky as he flipped. Like Dontas the day before, Milburn was able to continue racing after being rolled back on his wheels.
The two series champions began to battle for the win as Creed passed Gordon on the inside at the final turn on lap ten. As he held on to the lead and neared lap 11, Race Control elected to shorten the 14-lap event to just 12 laps due to time constraints. Gordon employed an aggressive strategy in hopes of passing the reigning champion, including cutting a corner. In the last turn, Gordon made his move to pass Creed, but went wide in the process and allowed him to catch up. The two drivers raced to the finish as Creed edged out Gordon by just .023 seconds, one of the closest finishes in SST history. To add to the dramatic finish, multiple trucks went off-course into the gravel trap in the last corner; after finishing, Creed and Gordon decided to join the cloud of smoke by performing dual burnouts. Harlien finished 3rd, followed by Brabham, Hynes, Gartner, Robinson, Milburn, Morris and Richardson.
The next race on the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks schedule is the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 2–4.
Featured image courtesy of Stadium Super Trucks