For the second year in a row, the SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks returned to Perth to race at the Barbagallo Raceway. In a two-race slate, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Jeff Hoffman scored their maiden SST victories.
Matt Nolan made his SST points debut at the weekend in the #21 truck. A veteran of the V8 Ute Racing Series, he was no stranger to competing in a stadium truck; in late 2016, he participated in the series’ exhibition races at the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit. In three races, he finished ninth, seventh, and ninth.
In Friday practice, Gavin Harlien led the way with a lap time of 1:02.3722, while Paul Morris was the fastest Australian as he recorded a time of 1:02.8828. Behind them were Travis Milburn (1:03.3058), Cole Potts (1:03.4246), Robby Gordon (1:03.4307), Jeff Hoffman (1:03.4447), Matt Brabham (1:03.4899), Arie Luyendyk Jr. (1:03.4922), Blade Hildebrand (1:03.7015), Greg Gartner (1:04.0931), Bill Hynes (1:04.1184), and Nolan (1:06.8605).
For qualifying later in the day, Brabham was the fastest as he secured a time of 1:02.679, followed by a slate of Americans in Gordon (1:02.798), Hildebrand (1:02.929), and Hoffman (1:03.040). Harlien dropped to fifth with a time of 1:03.094, ahead of Luyendyk (1:03.221), Morris (1:03.268), Milburn (1:03.412), Potts (1:03.424), Gartner (1:03.769), Hynes (1:04.823), and Nolan (1:05.615).
As the slowest qualifier, Nolan was placed on the pole courtesy of a field inversion alongside Hynes and ahead of Luyendyk. Nolan led the first lap before Hynes passed him, though Hynes’ lead also lasted just a lap when Luyendyk became the new leader on lap three. Gartner, who started fourth, moved up to second but Luyendyk began to establish a considerable advantage over him.
On lap five, Nolan jumped off the second ramp along the start/finish line at a poor angle, causing his truck to land hard on its rear and lose its left-rear tire. The truck rolled multiple times before coming to a stop in the grass. Nolan was unharmed in the accident, while track officials worked to move the ramp back into place, forcing a red flag.
When the race resumed, Luyendyk led Hoffman and Harlien. Luyendyk and Hoffman, both seeking their first SST victories, battled for the lead as Morris fought with Harlien for third. The competition caution came out on lap nine to group the field back for the restart; unlike past races where the competition caution was a full-course yellow, it was changed to come out as the trucks approached the final corner. On the restart, which Harlien began to employ aggressive attacking maneuvers on Hoffman. On lap ten, he bumped past Hoffman for second and began closing in on Luyendyk as they approached the straightaway exiting into turn six. Harlien was up to Luyendyk’s bumper when his race suddenly saw a turn of fortune: as the pair approached one of the ramps on the straightaway, Harlien was unable to get his entire truck on the jump; his left-side wheels were the only ones to hit the ramp, causing the truck to flip sideways. Potts nearly slammed into Harlien before quickly dodging. After being rolled back, Harlien rejoined the field as the race prepared for a one-lap sprint.
At the green flag, Gordon and Brabham dueled for position before the grid organized single file. Hoffman attempted a final charge on Luyendyk, but could not pass him as Luyendyk scored his first series win. Brief deliberation occurred when Race Control debated whether or not Luyendyk had aggressively blocked Harlien, which resulted in the latter’s wreck, but no action was taken. Hoffman and Morris joined Luyendyk on the podium for a UFD Racing sweep, ahead of Hildebrand, Milburn, Brabham, Gordon, Potts, Harlien, and Gartner.
“Waited a long time for a day like today,” Luyendyk posted on Instagram. “Winning in [Stadium Super Trucks] and having the woman I love by my side to share in this moment. On my grandfathers birthday of all days. Life is good, I keep soaking up the moments”.
The buildup to Saturday’s race was headlined by news of SST signing a three-year rights deal with telecommunications company Boost Mobile to keep the series in Australia beyond the 2019 season.
A shootout format determined the starting lineup for Race #2. Hynes and Gartner, who finished eleventh and tenth in the shootout, respectively, started on the front row, while the top-placing Brabham was at the back. Hynes led the race early, though Potts eventually took the lead.
As the race progressed, Milburn slammed into a water barrier. Gordon and Harlien, battling for position, made contact that sent the former off-course; Harlien nearly hit the remnants of the barrier but managed to avoid them. To facilitate cleanup, the yellow flag was waved, forcing the trucks to a halt. At the green flag, Potts led Hynes and Hildebrand, and the leader began to pull ahead.
The competition yellow took place on lap nine before racing resumed. Hoffman took second from Hynes on lap ten, while Hildebrand also passed him for third. As Hynes began to fall, so did the rain, resulting in a slick surface and multiple trucks sliding through the track. Morris eventually moved up to third.
Hoffman passed Potts for first on lap eleven, though Potts fought back. Behind them, Brabham avoided disaster while racing Hildebrand when he swerved away from the ramp upon realizing he could not safely make the jump. Hoffman, still in the hunt for his first career win, held off a final move by Potts in the last turn to take the checkered flag.
Potts was forced to settle for second, ahead of Morris, Brabham, Harlien, Hildebrand, Milburn, Luyendyk, Gartner, and Hynes. Gordon, in his 100th SST race, spun on the final lap and finished eleventh.
The next race weekend on the SST schedule is the Detroit Grand Prix in June 1–3. Sheldon Creed is the defending winner.
Featured image by @SSuperTrucks