Craig Lowndes is calling himself the “moral” V8 Supercar champion. And commentators seem to agree, last night awarding him the sport’s best and fairest medal at a ceremony in Melbourne.
In fact, the driver with the winners’ wreath around his neck is a quiet 23-year-old kid from Mildura. Talented and precocious Rick Kelly, a future champion by any measure. But did he deserve the crown so soon?
Lowndes and Kelly, both pretty uncompromising racers, went into Sunday’s final race, side by side on the grid, with a lone point separating them on the championship ladder. That they brawled, banged and finished the day in bitter dispute was not unexpected.
Kelly was judged to have pushed Lowndes off the circuit and received a pitlane “drive through” penalty. But with Lowndes nursing a badly bruised car, Kelly had the pace to stay ahead and drive to a muted championship victory.
Lowndes, wronged and shattered, launched an appeal. Stewards poured over evidence for hours yesterday afternoon but upheld the decision. Kelly had already been penalised, and to overturn the championship result a day later would have turned an already ridiculous situation into a farce.
The same bump on any other day in any other situation may not have even attracted a penalty. It’s devastating for Lowndes but, as they say, that’s racing.
What’s not sporting is the points system that helped deliver Kelly the title. Kelly didn’t win much at all this year, but stayed in the hunt – like vanquished champion Russell Ingall last year – through consistency rather than courage. The points system – designed, as it did, to take the championship down to the wire, but widely condemned and already scrapped for next season – didn’t reward Lowndes for effort – and winning.
And there remains a distinct lack of clarity over the rules in a panel-rubbing formula. Like AFL, the question is constantly asked and variously interpreted – what’s a bump, and what’s reckless? Expect stewards to come under heavy scrutiny before the start of next season.
Channel Ten ended its wildly successful association with V8 Supercar racing on Sunday by leaving fans in limbo about just who had won. It was embarrassing for the sport, unfair on the champion and especially cruel for the loser. Channel Seven, which paid serious money to broadcast the sport from next season, will rightly demand it never happens again.