Heimgartner drives to stunning maiden victory at The Bend
Andre Heimgartner has scored a crushing first win in his Supercars career after a dominant display in Race 9 of the 2021 Championship at The Bend Motorsport Park, South Australia. After topping practice and storming to a convincing Armor All Pole Position – his second in Supercars – the New Zealander was masterful in the changing conditions, which saw rain mix up the field and bring even greater unpredictability in challenging conditions.
“It’s pretty surreal – I didn’t know what to do!!,” Heimgartner said after the victory. “I haven’t done that for so long! It’s been a long time trying for us and Kelly Racing. Todd [Kelly] gave me an opportunity to come back into the sport and I’m just really glad that after all this time I’m able to repay him with some really good results. To describe it – a kid in a candy store, I don’t know where to look!”
Starting the 24-lap Race 9 from pole, the New Zealander was challenged for the lead off the start, dropping to third in the wet conditions after the second corner and heading three-cars wide as the field negotiated the 4.95-kilometre layout on cold tyres. Yet he recovered almost immediately, keeping his head after errors from those around him saw him retake the lead at Turn 6, with a gutsy two-car pass from third position to retake the lead of the 26-car field before the end of the first lap.
Once he was at the head of the pack, Heimgartner then pushed the #7 Ned Whisky Mustang to post fastest lap after fastest lap, building a six-second lead over the field before a pit-lane incident looked to thwart any chance of victory. Taking his compulsory pit-stop on the ninth lap, Heimgartner was released from his pit bay into the path of rival Jamie Whincup, the pair making light contact. The incident saw Race Control deliver Andre a five-second time penalty, but it was not enough to stop the Ned Whisky Racing Mustang driver stretching its advantage over the field, as competitors clumsily battled the tricky conditions.
As effective race leader of all competitors that had completed the mandatory stop, Heimgartner again set out to post fastest lap after fastest lap, and by lap 12 had a 5.9-second advantage over his nearest rival, Chaz Mostert, enough to negate the time penalty.
The Kelly Grove Racing crew decided not to let Andre know of the penalty, however in a race that demonstrated both Andre’s pure speed as well as his strong race craft, the 25-year-old cannily expected the penalty and factored it into his race strategy, stretching his lead to as much as 9.2 seconds. Never again headed on track, Heimgartner completed the 24-lap race with a convincing lead of 8.9 seconds, which the official result reducing this to a 3.9 second advantage.
“In the last couple of laps, I’m [thinking] ‘Okay, well this is finally going to happen, finally it’s going to be my time,’ and when that pit-stop happened, I thought ‘Here we go again, here’s another chance to lose a race!’,” Heimgartner said. “Really just relieved; the team and I have worked so hard, I’ve worked on my fitness. I dedicated myself 100 percent and it’s been a real knife in the side of me not to have a win and be competitive like that for a number of years, and also for the team – to get that out of the way is really good. For Dilan [Talabani], my engineer, I’m really happy for him. He's been working extremely hard, as have all of our engineers, to produce a good car. I'm just glad it all came together." The 161st race of his Supercars career, Andre Heimgartner is the 81st driver to record victory in Supercars history, and the first to win for the newly formed Kelly Grove Racing. The result elevates him to eighth in the driver’s standings, with Race 10 and 11 remaining as the OTR SuperSprint continues tomorrow. Coverage starts on Fox Sports and Kayo from 8:30am AEST Sunday, 9 May. Images: Supercars