The Boost Mobile Stadium Super Trucks returned to Australia over the weekend, running two races at Sydney Motorsport Park alongside the Australian Motor Racing Series (AMRS) for the first time. By the conclusion, Matt Brabham and Gavin Harlien were on the top steps of the podiums.
Following a legal confrontation that placed the series’ Australian future in jeopardy, SST formed a partnership with the Australian Auto Sport Alliance (AASA) to race with the AMRS. For SST’s first race under the banner, Sydney Motorsport Park hosted the trucks for the first time in series history, while it is the trucks’ first visit to the area since 2015. The trucks ran a shortened version of the course that featured a chicane allowing them to go from turn five to fifteen.
In addition to the traditional field of full-time drivers, Russell Ingall made his series debut at Sydney, driving the #9 Boost Mobile truck. The 2005 Supercars champion, Ingall decided to give the trucks a shot after reading the reactions to the series’ removal from the Gold Coast 600 slate.
“I think they are a good spectacle and have always enjoyed them and it was shame they were not there,” Ingall stated in an article from Speedcafe. “I put a post out and it just went off its head and Paul Morris spotted it and rang me and he asked me if I was interested in running one.”
On Facebook, Ingall commented on the SST page: “Been a big fan over the years watching you guys and bit of a fan of bad boy Robby Gordon as well. Got no idea what to expect, but sometimes in life you’ve got to say ‘What the hell! Tighten up the belts and hang on’ 💪”
A three-lap qualifying session was held hours before the first race on Saturday. Points leader Matt Brabham led the way with a lap time of 1:30.066, followed by Gordon (1:32.106), Gavin Harlien (1:32.166), Jeff Hoffman (1:32.204), Cole Potts (1:32.409), Blade Hildebrand (1:32.826), Morris (1:33.164), Ingall (1:34.647), and Matt Nolan (1:34.884).
With an inverted grid, Nolan started on the pole with Ingall second, while Potts and Brabham were placed at the rear. Despite a good start by Nolan, he quickly lost the lead to Morris and Hildebrand. A poor landing during the first lap further dropped him off the pace.
Harlien and Hildebrand attempted to pass Morris for the lead, and after a brief battle, Harlien was in first. Gordon and Brabham eventually caught up to Morris to enter the podium fight. Morris subsequently lost the position and more as he dropped out of the top five. At the front of the field, Harlien was maintaining a steady lead until the competition caution on lap six.
At the restart, Gordon charged past Hildebrand for second as they entered turn one; Hildebrand began to fall as Brabham and Morris passed him. On lap eight, Gordon slid off course and out of the podium range with Brabham and Potts moving up to second and third, respectively. Gordon did it again a lap later.
On lap ten, Brabham took the lead from Harlien in the first corner. With the points leader out front, Harlien and Potts began fighting for second. As Brabham coasted to victory, Harlien held off Potts to take second. Behind the three were Gordon, Hoffman, Ingall, Nolan, and Hildebrand.
“It was good. Definitely finding that balance between confidence and aggressive driving,” Potts stated in his podium interview. “I was able to follow Matty [Brabham] to the front which makes it easy for sure, but definitely felt real cool out there, real calm. We had one goal here, is to continue our podium streak. I love Australia, I love the fans, amazing tracks, beautiful facility, it’s awesome to be out here. But really happy to come out unscathed, lot of gnarly jumps and a lot of high-speed stuff out there.”
Talking about the podium battle, Harlien said, “I did have to make some aggressive moves there early. I knew I wanted to get out into the lead pretty quick because the draft here is insane and these trucks really punch a hole in the wall or through the air, so when you’re behind someone on this long straight, you’re gonna catch them really quick. I got out in front, had to make some aggressive moves, but then I made a couple of mistakes, got Matty to catch up on me and down the straight, he just sucked up right on me.
“I want to be on top of the box, but I’m really happy with the really super-clean and fun race, for sure.”
“It was shake-and-bake mate, that’s how you do it,” Brabham commented, referring to the trio’s drafting together to distance themselves from the field. “But I was just following people through the pack and there were so many times like on the first lap, Gavin did a big move down the inside, moved a couple of people out the way and I just followed him through, and then it was the same with Cole as well. And then I was following Robby through the field and he kept moving people out of the way, so I just kept following him through and I managed to keep my truck clean all the way to the end, which is pretty rare.”
Unlike in Race #1, the series ran the full circuit. Like in Race #1, Nolan and Ingall comprised the front row, with the former once again getting a good start at the green flag.
Nolan eventually began slipping as Ingall took the lead and Morris moved to second. Hildebrand eventually passed the two on lap two for first.
At the start of a chaotic lap three, Hoffman and Potts collided and their trucks attached, yanking them out of race contention until the competition caution. At the head of the field, Harlien took second from Morris before lap four began.
On lap five, Morris, Brabham, and Ingall battled for third as Gordon watched from behind. During the lap, Brabham landed awkwardly and went off course, which the others seized to pass him as the competition yellow came out. Although the race utilized the full course, the shortened layout was used for the caution to save time. Brabham’s landing caused his truck’s belt to fall off, forcing him to pit to readjust it before returning to the race.
At the restart, Harlien attempted a move on the inside of Hildebrand as they approached turn one; despite resistance from Hildebrand, Harlien was able to clear him for first. Morris also passed Hildebrand to take second, while Gordon, Potts, and Hoffman tangled in their fight for fourth.
Morris and Hildebrand dueled for second as Harlien pulled away. Hoffman eventually entered the picture as he fought Morris and Hildebrand to claim the runner-up spot. On the final lap, Hoffman and Hildebrand made contact and spun.
Harlien scored his first win since Texas, while Morris engaged in a side-by-side battle with Potts for second, nudging ahead of him to take the second step. Gordon finished fourth, followed by Ingall and Hildebrand.
“I pretty much just saw red,” Potts said in his podium interview. “What could we do from there? I thought the race was over, so just drive as hard as I could and make up as many positions as I can. Little luck on our side for sure, but a couple of trucks got together, I believe, turn two, so I was able to charge on from there and pick up a few more spots. Just happy to be here right now.
“I saw Robby give me a pretty good shove and I said, ‘You know what? I can’t take that. I gotta give it right back and more.’ That was a fun battle for sure; battling with the champ, you learn a few things, you also get stuff pretty hard.”
Morris commented on handling struggles throughout the weekend. “We’ve been struggling, just going nowhere. Seconds off the pace, and then tried something with the rear of the truck, then just threw the toolbox at it and the thing was pretty hooked up. Still struggling in the turn a bit, was enough to hang on, not enough to catch Gav, but enough to hold everyone else and get the elbows up and make ’em work for it.”
With his second in Race #1 and win, Harlien scored the overall weekend win. “I got second yesterday, I was still happy with it, but I really wanted to be on top of the box. I just didn’t have that speed to catch Matty yesterday, he got around me with the draft and couldn’t catch him. But today, I went back home, studied some film, just thought really hard and long about this race, and it ended up paying off. I wasn’t even in the lead for most of it, but got out in front and let these guys battle it out behind me and gave me a nice cushion and brought the UFD truck home.
Behind Harlien for the weekend standings were Potts and Brabham. With Harlien’s weekend, his championship gap to Brabham was narrowed.
“I never want bad things to happen to any other racer,” Harlien stated. “It’s really unfortunate [the belt issue] happened to Matty, but that’s how racing goes sometimes. I’ll take the points. It’s coming down to the wire in the championship; me and him are pretty far out in front. I’ve been trying all year to catch him so this helps a little bit, but he’s still out there and I’ve still got to do a lot of work if I want to get the championship.”