Just a few days after repelling a home invasion, Lee Holdsworth forced his way into V8 Supercars history by scoring Mercedes-Benz’s first victory with an audacious drive in the second race of the Winton 400 on Saturday.
Starting from fourth on the grid in his Erebus Motorsport Mercedes AMG E63, Holdsworth first stalked then ambushed the pole-position winner, New Zealander Fabian Coulthard, to take the lead near the end of the 34-lap, 101 km sprint race.
The breakthrough win ended the long wait by wealthy Eerebus team owner Betty Klimenko to get a reward for her reputed $30 million funding of the squad, which joined V8 racing last year with a squad of Mercedes-badged racers developed in league with the German car-maker’s AMG performance division.
But unlike fellow 2013 newcomer Nissan and this year’s arrival, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz doesn’t provide financial or technical support for the three-pointed star V8 racers, which are funded entirely by Klimenko.
She is reported to have spent more than $20 million on her team’s first season last year, with much of that spent with AMG in Germany on the development of a five-litre V8 racing version of the engine that powers the Mercedes AMG SLS sports car.
Brisbane-based Holdsworth, 31, scored the most significant win of his career only four days after his family went through the harrowing experience of a home invasion.
While he was in the shower on Wednesday night, an intruder broke into his home and confronted his wife, whose screams scared the invader away.
A naked Holdsworth rushed to his wife’s aid and, grabbing a baseball bat and without getting dressed, chased after the intruder, who escaped.
‘‘It’s very emotional,’’ he said of scoring the first race win by a Mercedes-Benz in Australian touring car championship history. ‘‘It’s been such a hard past 12 months and what happened during the week didn’t help. We’re up the front and we’re here to stay, I think.’’
After scoring Erebus’s best starting position, Holdsworth and the whole Gold Coast-based Erebus team, which evolved from Klimenko’s buy-out of the long-established Stone Brothers Racing squad, endured many failures and poor results last year as the Mercedes AMG E63 was developed under the New Generation technical rules that opened V8 racing to makes other than Ford and Holden.
After qualifying fourth, equalling the sophomore team’s best starting position, Holdsworth quickly slotted into third behind Coulthard’s Brad Jones Racing Holden Commodore and Scott McLaughlin’s Volvo S60, which jumped from second on the grid into the lead at the first corner.
Saturday’s second race was looking like it could be the first V8 championship race win for Volvo as McLaughlin led the first nine laps, only to be told to bring his car into the pits because alternator failure was draining the battery.
Coulthard, a dominant winner in Saturday’s opening 34-lap, 101 km sprint, stayed in the lead until the 32nd lap, when Holdsworth converted his close pursuit into a perfectly executed passing move.
Coulthard’s Commodore was struggling for speed on worn tyres and soon after he lost second place to Ford Performance Racing’s Mark Winterbottom, who had battled through from sixth on the grid in his Falcon.
On top of the unusual struggles of Craig Lowndes and V8 title-holder Jamie Whincup, who suffered poor finishes in both races in their normally pace-setting Triple Eight Holdens, the win and third place moved Coulthard to within striking distance of Lowndes’s championship points lead.
Going into Sunday’s 67-lap, 200 km ninth race of the V8 title series, Lowndes has 605 points, just 19 clear of Coulthard, with Whincup a further 58 points behind.
V8 veteran Russell Ingall is facing possible disciplinary action after criticising race officials on TV following a pit lane drive-through penalty late in the first race.
He was penalised for muscling another car off the track as he charged through the field on his way to third place from the rear of the grid.
Referring to the officials as ‘‘idiots up in their ivory tower’’, Ingall also said: ‘‘I’d like to take them over there to the spectators. They’d kick the shit out of them.’’
Coulthard dominated qualifying, winning pole position for both of Saturday’s sprint races with record-breaking lap times.
With parts of the tight 3.0 km circuit still covered in the sticky rubberised bitumen compound used to fill cracks in the track, he took advantage of the extra tyre grip to better the qualifying lap record, set in 2010, by 1.8 seconds in the first qualifying session.
In the second 10-minute qualifying session, Coulthard went even quicker, undercutting the lap record by 2.1 seconds to secure pole again as he became the first V8 driver to break the 80 seconds barrier at the Winton track with a clocking of 1 minute 19.6538 seconds.
Track conditions were so good because of the tacky coating of sealant that all 25 cars broke the qualifying lap record in both sessions.
Coulthard beat fellow Kiwis Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlan for the No.1 starting positions, with van Gisbergen starting alongside on the front row for the first race in his Commodore and McLaughlin claiming second spot on the grid ahead of van Gisbergen.