A major controversy has emerged in round one of the 2023 Supercars championship, with reigning champion Shane van Gisbergen disqualified after winning the first race of the season in Newcastle. Van Gisbergen's team, Red Bull Racing, has already confirmed they plan to appeal the disqualification.
The 2023 season got underway in Newcastle this weekend, with the category debuting the new 'Gen 3' Chevy Camaros and Ford Mustangs that have replaced the outgoing Commodores and Falcons. However it hasn't been as smooth an introduction as the series would have liked, with many drivers complaining about excessive heat in the cabin and around the pedals during practice and qualifying.
Teams had been granted permission to utilise additional cooling methods after drivers began suffering serious effects, with driver Will Brown taken to hospital for dehydration following the race. However it was Red Bull's method of cooling the cabin in both Van Gisbergen and teammate Broc Feeney's cars that resulted in protests from two different teams.
The team had placed dry ice in the driver-side door of both cars in order to relieve some of the intense stress both drivers were battling with - believing they had been given the all-clear by Supercars head of motorsport Adrian Burgess. The verdict handed down by Motorsport Australia stated that while Burgess had indeed been shown the cooling system earlier in the race weekend, Red Bull were 'mistaken' in believing it had been given approval to be used in race.
“(Burgess’) clear determination is that the systems in issue do not comply with the rules,” the verdict read.
“It is important to record that the stewards find that there was no intention on the part of the respondent to compete with a non-compliant car and that it was an honest, though mistaken, belief that it had the permission of (Burgess) to install the systems in issue. Despite the honest, though mistaken belief, the breach has still occurred, and the penalty is both required and appropriate.”
The decision robbed Red Bull of a one-two finish, with the race win going to third-place finished Cam Waters. Protests against Red Bull were lodged by Waters' team Tickford Racing, as well as fourth place finisher Chaz Mostert's Walkinshaw Andretti United.
Red Bull issued a statement soon after the verdict was handed down, announcing their intent to appeal and their disappointment in the disqualification. They maintained their belief that the cooling systems had been given the go-ahead, as well as that the only advantage they provided was cooler air for the drivers - a matter of safety.
— 7Sport (@7Sport) March 12, 2023
“Triple Eight is disappointed in the decision handed down by Motorsport Australia resulting in the disqualification of both Red Bull Ampol Racing cars from Race 1 of the Newcastle 500, and we have lodged notices of our intention to appeal for both cars,” the team's statement read.
“The team sought permission from the Supercars head of motorsport prior to Race 1 of the Supercars championship, which was granted, and we acted upon this permission.
“This was not a performance enhancement method, but a driver safety tool. Our team ethos is to race hard and fair every time we hit the track and our full focus is on (Sunday's) race in Newcastle.”
Supercars drivers feeling the effects of heat in season opener
In the build-up to the race, van Gisbergen voiced his discomfort inside the new Gen3 Camaro due to the heat and officials green-lighted further proofing measures in cars for practice and qualifying. He said he even accelerated with his left foot at times during the race to give it some reprieve off the hot bottom wall of his vehicle.
The Supercars rule book states that cooling systems must be placed in the passenger side of the car, with Red Bull undone by their use of it on the driver's side. Former series champion turned commentator Mark Skaife said the team had modified the system to fit within regulations for the subsequent race on Sunday.
In addition to Brown's brief hospitalisation, other drivers reported devastating side-effects from the high cabin temperatures in race one. David Reynolds claimed he had been on the verge of throwing up and reduced to tears in the car, such was the physical strain.
“With about 50 laps to go I actually cried while I was trying to throw up in the car,” he said. “Not sure whether I was having a heart attack or stomach ache so I was in a real world of hurt yesterday.”
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