Panasonic Toyota Racing took a dream podium after a dramatic Australian Grand Prix. Both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli qualified in the top ten but they endured mixed fortunes in an incident-strewn race. Ralf raced strongly near the front early on before losing time for a drive-through penalty. But he made the most of a series of safety car restarts on his way to an eventual six points for 3rd place. Jarno's afternoon was much shorter as he was taken out of the race on the very first lap. Trulli was overtaking David Coulthard when the pair clashed, breaking the Toyota's rear suspension. Ralf's podium means that Toyota will return to Europe with hopes of a continued challenge during the coming races. The team is scheduled to test at France's Paul Ricard circuit next week as it bids to make further steps forward.
Ralf Schumacher raced strongly throughout today's incident-packed race gaining several places before taking 3rd place.
Ralf Schumacher (Car 7, Chassis TF106/05) Race Classification: 3rd
Gap: +24.824s (from race winner)
Qualifying Classification: 6th
Time: 1m26.612s (+1.383s in Session 3)
"We are all very happy with what we achieved today. The drive through penalty was my fault because I accidentally hit the button twice but I was lucky and due to the safety car periods we achieved a lot more than we ever thought before this weekend. At the start we were sliding around and locking wheels. But while we've had problems with warming up our tyres in earlier races, others seemed to struggle with that today. Some of the safety car periods were a bit of a fight with all the backmarkers in there but after the third safety car period I gained a couple of places which was great. Grip was hard to come by so I really had to fight the whole race to keep the car there, but it worked out in the end and we achieved a great result. We are still a way from the top teams so we have to work, but I have no doubt that our crew is able to do that. We're strong people and pushing hard so I'm looking forward to the next few races."
GREAT BARRIER GRIEF
Jarno Trulli's race ended early when he suffered a broken rear suspension after a clash with Coulthard on the first lap.
Jarno Trulli (Car 8, Chassis TF106/04)
Race Classification: DNF
Qualifying Classification: 10th
Time: 1m26.327s (+0.598s in Session 2)
"I'm happy that Ralf did so well and it shows that we have the pace to challenge again. But this has been a disastrous weekend for me and it was a shame to be punted out of the race so early. A couple of corners in I was following Coulthard who was going very slowly and zigzagging on the straight. I went to the inside to overtake him and I was ahead at the corner but he just closed the door on me, hitting me on the back. That broke my rear suspension and put me out of the race. I was just being careful and overtaking a slower car so I don't understand how it happened and I was surprised by what he did. I've had such bad luck this weekend, I just hope that I've had my share for a while. We showed good pace so I hope we can keep that up and my fortunes can improve back in Europe."
OVERJOYED DOWN UNDER
The Panasonic Toyota Racing team is delighted to have come away from Australia with its first podium finish of 2006.
John Howett - President, Toyota Motorsport "That was an incredibly exciting and eventful race and it was a suberb job by Ralf and the whole team especially when you consider the difficult start to the year. It was unlucky for Jarno. He was passed by Coulthard at the first corner but then he made a clean pass back and Coulthard just turned in on him. So that was a shame, but with Ralf we could run reasonably competitively. The tyres were very good, too. Everyone struggled after the safety car periods here but Bridgestone have helped us to get on top of the problem of getting heat into the tyres and that paid off. When Ralf got the drive through penalty for speeding in the pit lane, we thought we'd thrown away a podium chance. We were a bit lucky with the number of incidents but for all the safety cars we managed to get the strategy right, and it was excellent team work from the boys as always. Ralf drove aggressively on the restarts and we were able to pick up places, which was fantastic. This is a well deserved shot o f adrenaline to the whole team who have worked so hard over the winter."