Motorsport governing body the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) has explained the team orders rule breach charge against DJR Team Penske in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Fabian Coulthard was given a drive-through penalty for driving slowly during a Safety Car period, dramatically holding up those behind. As the #12 slowed, the gap between third-placed Coulthard and eventful winner Scott McLaughlin in P2 blew out from one to 47 seconds.
An inquiry at the circuit after the race lasted more than two hours, and another hearing will be held at the next event on the Gold Coast on October 25-27, with the team and the Deputy Race Director to compile further evidence.
According to the CAMS statement, the inquiry was triggered following an in-race interview during the broadcast by team boss Ryan Story, and the “extraordinary increase” between cars #17 and #12.
As such, the result of Sunday’s race will remain provisional.
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Critically, McLaughlin and race leader Jamie Whincup were able to pit and retain their places — Coulthard’s actions held up the field as cars behind were not allowed to overtake under yellow.
On Lap 135 (when the drama occurred) Coulthard’s lap time was 2:54.0001s, while McLaughlin registered a 2:08.3199s — a swing of nearly 47 seconds.
Later, when asked if Coulthard slowing was a “plan”, Story said: “We were genuinely having overheating issues with the car and where-en it was worse it was under Safety Car when you’re not getting a lot of the air go through the car, so yeah, not ideal, but we’re paying the price.”
The Story interview took place on the broadcast on the same lap (Lap 138) as the Race Director notified of the #12 of the drive-through penalty.
Radio transmission was later released by Fox Sports from cars #12 and #97, which was being steered by Shane van Gisbergen.
Coulthard was told that the team didn’t know where the incident was — the incident being Alexander Rossi beaching the #27 wildcard entry at the final corner — and Coulthard slowed down on request.
Van Gisbergen, who eventually finished second, was in the train behind and said over radio that Coulthard was going “stupidly slow” and later labelled him a “sacrificial lamb” in the drivers’ press conference after the race.
Coulthard recovered to sixth, and later said he “did what he was told”.
“I just got told they didn’t know where the incident was and to take extreme caution,” Coulthard explained afterwards.
“You take extreme caution under a Safety Car, and I did what I was told.”
According to rule D24.1 of the Supercars Operations Manual, “Team Orders 24.1.1 Means an instruction to a Driver or Team member, either verbal or otherwise the effect of which may interfere with a race result.”
After the Race the Stewards determined to conduct an inquiry into the incident on Laps 134-135 during the Safety Car deployment when the gap between Cars #17 and #12 increased significantly to the disadvantage of all Cars behind Car #12 because they were concerned that the incident may have been the result of Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd having issued an instruction to the Driver of Car #12 to slow and create an unwarranted large gap between Cars #17 and Car #12 for tactical reasons.
Rule D24.1 prohibits Team Orders and provides that an instruction to a Driver or Team member, either verbal or otherwise the effect of which may interfere with a race result is a Team Order.
After the Race Director announced the Pit Lane drive through Penalty on Car #12, the Stewards noted on broadcast footage an interview by a Supercars Media commentator of the Authorised Representative of Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd, Mr Story, during which Mr Story was invited to explain the reason why the gap between Cars #17 and #12 had been so large and whether it was the result of a ‘plan’.
While denying that suggestion, the response of Mr Story and the extraordinary increase in the gap between Cars #17 and #12 during the SC deployment caused the Stewards to hold concerns that Rule D24.1 may have been breached.
Following the Race the Stewards summonsed the Authorised Representative of Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd, the Driver of Car #12 and Car #12’s engineer to a Hearing and requested that the DRD obtain a recording of the radio communications between Car #12 and Car #12’s engineer during the SC deployment. That Hearing commenced at 2000hrs on Sunday 13 October.
After interviewing Mr Story, the Driver of Car #12 and Car #12’s engineer, and reviewing Hawk Eye footage of the incident, including in-Car footage from Car #12, the interview of Mr Story and Supercars telemetry data for Car #12, the Stewards, while making no findings, determined that the evidence was sufficient to call upon Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd to answer whether it breached Rule D24.1 and recommended to the DRD that he consider laying a charge of a breach of that Rule.
The DRD having determined to lay such a charge, and the Authorised Representative of Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd having explained that he required an opportunity gather and present evidence in defence of that charge and the DRD having sought an opportunity to secure further evidence, the Stewards closed the Inquiry at 2210hrs.
The charge will be heard by a panel of Stewards prior to the commencement of track activities at the forthcoming Gold Coast 600. In the circumstances, the Classifications for Race 25 remain Provisional.
The Stewards re-iterate that no findings have been made against Racing Team (Aust) Pty Ltd at this stage and the Driver of Car #12 is not accused of any breach of the Rules beyond the breach of Rule D10.2.2.3 for which a Pit Lane drive through Penalty was issued during the Race and was served.
STORY INTERVIEW (LAP 138)
Supercars pit reporter Greg Murphy: “Ryan Story, news has just come through; black flag for Car 12. What was the situation there? We know he had an overheating problem, you had to put water in the car, but he did drop back a long way and wasn’t having any trouble before the Safety Car, so what was the story?”
Story: “Well, it’s one of those things isn’t it?”
Murphy: “Okay then … so a bit of plan?”
Story: “I wouldn’t go so far as that. We were … Look, we were genuinely having overheating issues with the car and where-en it was worse it was under Safety Car when you’re not getting a lot of the air go through the car, so yeah, not ideal, but we’re paying the price.”