Round Nine of the iRacing.com V8 Supercars Series headed back to Australia and Phillip Island to start the run home with the series now into the final month of racing and into the drop rounds. Justin Ruggier took over the championship lead last round with Madison Down now in second place. Joshua Muggleton has been absent the past week and will not race in this round either so he has fallen back into fourth behind Vail Riches but is not out of the championship picture.
Qualifying was led by the five time champion Down, who took pole position after being the only sim-racer to break into the 90 second bracket with a blazing 1:30.979. Ruggier would start from position two with a 1:31.044 while Riches and Brad Ryan were .020s behind Ruggier and started from third and fourth. Shaun Kelly was fifth beside John Emerson while Michael Fabian and Jon Latham started from the fourth row with Mitchell McLeod and Matthew Hill rounding-out the top 10 starters.
When the lights went green it was Down leading the field with Ruggier on his outside. Through Turn One Down took full control, deftly sliding in front of Ruggier. Suffering an overdose of wheelspin at the drop of the clutch, Kelly fell back from fifth to eighth. Further back, Clayton Brooks tried to find the gap down the inside of Leigh Ellis but a bit of net code pitched Brooks sideways and only a great save kept him out of the wall. Not so fortunate were Hill and Tony Autridge. Contact sent both drivers off the road on the exit of the Southern Loop, with Autridge finding the wall and becoming the first driver to retire from the 38 lap online race.
Up front, Down pulling away from Ruggier as Ryan was just starting to find his rhythm. One of the biggest movers on the opening lap was late joiner (and non-qualifier) Shane van Gisbergen who started from the back and moved up from 19th to 13th.
On Lap Three into Honda Hairpin McLeod would get hit from behind by Kelly and end-up facing the wrong way. Six laps later Ellis make a good move down the inside of Latham into Honda Hairpin. Latham held station, giving him the inside into Siberia but Ellis turned-in a little early, resulting in contact that sent Ellis off the road.
Back up front, Down continued leading the way with Ruggier under attack from Ryan as both drivers began closing on the leader. At the end of Lap 14 Down and Ruggier peeled-off into pitlane, leaving Ryan out on the track and now with the lead of the race. Running long stints, Riches and Emerson where having a battle of their own now as they moved into second and third on the road.
On the following lap Ryan came to pitlane to take on fuel enough to get home. But a slow pit stop with Down and Ruggier doing a lap of fresh tyres resulted in Ryan rejoining about three seconds down to the two front runners. At the end of Lap 23 the field would be fully cleansed when Emerson and Riches both pitted giving the lead of the race back to Down.
The battle for second was heating up come Lap 30 when Ryan caught up to Ruggie. Down was a second and a half in front and loving the fact the two guys behind where battling for position, with Emerson and Riches rejoining the action 10 seconds behind the leaders. Kelly and Fabian were just outside the top five while van Gisbergen’s charge had carried him up to eighth place.
Down continued to lead into the last lap with Ruggier still under pressure from Ryan. However, Ruggier’s task became much easier when the Ryan disappeared from his mirrors on the final lap after disconnecting from the race.
Thus for the first time since Watkins Glen, Down mounted the top step of the podium after a commanding flag-to-flag victory at the Island. He and Ruggier were joined on the podium by a pleasantly surprised Emerson, with teammate Riches and Kelly rounding-out the top five. Fabian finished in sixth while a fantastic performance saw van Gisbergen finish seventh place sans practice or qualifying. Ellis, McLeod and Hill completed the top 10 finishers.
Hard charger goes to van Gisbergen moving up a dozen places from 19th to P7.
Top Five Drivers – Championship Points – Overall
1. Justin Ruggier – 1955
2. Madison Down – 1950
3. Vail Riches – 1834
4. Joshua Muggleton–1714
5. John Emerson – 1656
Euro/US Winner: Rens Broekman
Split Two Winner: Thomas Guerrini
Split Three Winner: Todd Valentine
Split Four Winner: Jamie Peeters
Split Five Winner: Luke Emerton
Broadcast done by the crew at www.v8sonline.com.au