Supercars: Darwin SuperSprint
Circuit: Hidden Valley
Part Two of this Darwin Double-Triple Crown served as Round 6 of the Supercars Championship, and while it was a lovely 30 degrees in the Top End…
2 weeks ago it was snowing at Symmons Plains.
Despite Jamie Whincup’s success in last week’s actual Triple Crown at Hidden Valley, the championship lead didn’t change much – McLaughlin still led by 102 points, down from 107 after the second Sydney round.
Unlike the last 3 Rounds of Soft/Hard tyres, this weekend was Soft tyres only, while there were also more tweaks to the rules, with the ‘traditional’ Top 10 Shootout returning at Townsville from this coming weekend, while an incident between Jamie Whincup and Fabian Coulthard in the Pit Lane in Race 15 forced a rule change.
Whincup had been released into the path of Fabs, who was turning from the fast lane into the DJR-Penske bay directly ahead, but Jamie avoided a penalty from Craig Baird because the rule stated the car being released must give way to a car already wholly in the fast lane, and Coulthard had started mergin into his box.
The new rule was what it probably should’ve been in the first place – A car must be release safely without impeding any other car in pit lane.
Race 16 (38 Laps)
Jamie Whincup only qualified 13th in Q2 for Race 16, but he took Pole Position in the Top 15 Shootout with the weekend-best time of 1:06.1381, just edging out Scott McLaughlin by only 0.0633s, ending McLaughlin’s streak of 5 consecutive poles at the Valley, as the Tickford trio of James Courtney, Cam Waters and Lee Holdsworth filled out the Top 5, as Shane van Gisbergen struggled to start 11th.
It didn’t last long, because McLaughlin would beat Whincup in the drag race to Turn 1, as the Red Bull driver apparently had an issue with the red lights going out too quickly, which was something that caught out several other drivers, namely Scott Pye stalling from 8th place, which was later deemed a clutch failure.
Further down, Jack Le Brocq was caught in a squeeze between Andre Heimgartner and David Reynolds at the exit of Turn 1, breaking the front upright on the Tickford Mustang and forcing him into a quick retirement.
If you ask me, the start pretty much settled the race, because McLaughlin was able to manage his tyres from the lead in clear air, although in fairness to Triple 8, Whincup never let the Shell Mustang out of his sight.
Courtney was the first Top 10 driver to pit on Lap 5, while Waters was into the lane on Lap 6 and in the only major change for position, Waters made the overcut work by planting the Monster Mustang on the inside of Turn 1, and thus began a race-long fight that went Cameron’s way.
McLaughlin pitted at the end of Lap 7, opting to change his rears like Whincup, who stopped a lap later and was back out behind the #17 once more.
Apparently DJR-Penske picked up that rear tyre strategy last weekend, when they noticed Whincup changed his rears on his way to knocking off McLaughlin in Race 15, who had his drivers side tyres changed.
Anyway, it kept the status quo out in front, so it definitely worked.
On another point about pit strategies, Shane van Gisbergen never really featured in the battle for the podium after starting from Row 6, but Triple 8 were one of the few teams to change all four tyres, and after pitting on Lap 24, Gizzy did make up good ground in the final stages and finished 8th.
The other late stoppers also enjoyed late moves up the order – Nick Percat didn’t pit until Lap 18, but picked his way through the midpack to finish in 5th, and Anton De Pasquale stayed out until Lap 24 and re-emerged in 12th, but went through Lee Holdsworth and Fabian Coulthard like a cheese knife through brie, and would work up to 6th, finishing only a second behind Percat.
The midpack was pretty much where all the action was at – Winterbottom against Mostert on Lap 29 as they went through to the hairpin, with Mostert keeping himself ahead with some good clean racing, Gizzy’s move on Coulthard into the final turn, pretty much going rear wheel drive.
The only other retirement was Chris Pither in the Coke Commodore, having to stop just off the track out of Turn 1 with 4 laps remaining, although there was no Safety Car.
But, in another front running display, McLaughlin claimed his 49th career win by 2.5 seconds to Whincup, passing Peter No-So-Perfect Brock into 5th on the all-time ATCC wins list, with the all-time leader Whincup in 2nd, and Waters beat home Courtney in the duel for 3rd between the Tickford teammates.
Post-Race, Garry Jacobson was the only driver to get a tie penalty, being docked 15-seconds, which dropped him from 20th all the way to the last classified driver, in 22nd place.
McLaughlin claimed Pole Position from van Gisbergen, who had an overnight engine change after struggling with straightline speed on Saturday, which apparently made an instant impact, while Whincup put himself at a disadvantage by Qualifying 8th, which left the door open for Scotty to extend his championship lead.
Once again, McLaughlin won the drag race to Turn 1 ahead of the Red Bull, but the highlight was the start from his teammate, as Coulthard was the last of the late brakers into the turn, rounding his way from 6th to 3rd on the outside of Waters, Pye and Winterbottom, before he had to slot in behind van Gisbergen.
It’s at this point where I tell you the race was destined to be the exact same as the last – With fresh air, McLaughlin was able to manage proceedings in his sleep ahead of a Red Bull car.
As the race settled down, Coulthard and Waters (From 6th) were the first leading drivers to pit at the end of Lap 5, with both drivers changing their driver side tyres, while Anton de Pasquale encountered a slight problem – His radio had totally failed, which meant it was pretty much an Erebus guessing game as to when he would come in.
He was due to be one of the early stoppers, but instead stayed out until Lap 25, and resumed in the midfield.
van Gisbergen pitted on Lap 6, just as he was starting to drift off the rear of McLaughlin, and he went on to a used pair of rear tyres just ahead of Coulthard, while McLaughlin had saved up a fresh tyre set, and by this point, you could pretty much pencil in another 1st place next to Car 17.
In the jostle for Top 10 places, Whincup was able to jump Winterbottom, who also lost a place to Courtney after having to give way to David Reynolds in the pits, which also manifested when Holdsworth re-emerged ahead of Car 18.
A little further behind, Jack Le Brocq and Rick Kelly were enjoying a heated dodgem car battle, which went a bit too far when Le Brocq executed a tap and pass on Kelly out of the hairpin without redressing the place, earning the Supercheap Mustang a5-second time penalty.
Mostert and Percat stayed out until Lap 19 in a bid to make a late run home, while Scott Pye stayed out until Lap 26, which was an effective battle for position with Coulthard for 3rd, which Pye made hard for himself by dipping two wheels off the road at Turn 7 on his in-lap, and he rejoined in 4th.
It didn’t last long, because Pye moved past Coulthard for 3rd with the superior grip on Lap 31, and he had a serious chance of running down the 3.2 second gap to van Gisbergen with the advantage in tyre life.
Pye seemed to relish Hidden Valley – He got the podium last weekend, and the stall at the start of Race 16 reduced him to 13th, when he was fast enough to challenge for a Top 5 finish
Mostert and Percat had a hard-fought battle for 7th and 8th, which predictably ended in tears when Mostert spun Percat at Turn 1 on Lap 33 trying to attempt an undercut on the corner exit, ending with a well-earned 15-second time penalty for the WAU Commodore, dropping him from 7th to 18th, as Percat finished 13th.
With 3 laps remaining, McLaughlin was home and dry, while the gap from Pye to van Gisbergen was only 1.1 seconds, but this was a classic case of one thing to catch up to the car ahead, and another to pass them.
Had there been another lap, I still think Shane would’ve held on, but another two, and Pye would’ve devoured him.
There was one final Turn 1 incident between Jacobson and Percat’s teammate Macauley Jones, with Jacobson getting yet another penalty this weekend, on this occassion for sending young Maccer into the grass in the CoolDrive Brad Jones car.
Still, who cares about them, because in yet another effortless stroll, McLaughlin brought up the half-century of ATCC race wins by a 9.7 second margin to van Gisbergen, who did hold off Pye by only 3-tenths, as Charlie Schwerkolt’s Team 18 enjoyed their second Darwin podium during the double-header.
There were 4 time penalties post-race: Mostert for the Percat hit, Jacobson was done for spinning Jones, which only made him swap positions with Maccer (Second last to last), Le Brocq got his penalty for tapping Kelly, and De Pasquale’s tough race saw him docked 5 seconds, falling from 10th to 12th.
With Whincup in 6th, that pushed McLaughlin’s Championship lead out to 141 points.
Race 18 (38 Laps)
Shane van Gisbergen had qualified on pole by a mere 3-hundredths of a second to McLaughlin, but in a repeat of Races 15 and 16, Scotty gave the Red Bull windburn off the line, and Nick Percat from 4th followed Scotty with a fantastic getway, and rounded his way into 2nd place, which he never let go of.
Waters and Pye were the earliest of the Top 10 runners to pit, stopping on Lap 5/6, while Whincup pitted the next lap after starting from 7th, and at the pit exit, the Red Bull Commodore tried fending off the Monster Mustang into Turn 1 in an energy drink arm-wrestle, and Waters tried cutting back underneath the Red Bull, but he clipped the kerb, the cars interlocked wheels, and while Whincup escaped with nothing more than dropping a spot, Waters destroyed his front-right steering arm, and had to retire.
Shortly after that, Coulthard hit Fullwood in the left-rear corner, and Fullwood immediately pitted, which meant car #12 couldn’t redress, and Coulthard was hit with a 5-second time penalty.
While Percat and McLaughlin pitted on Laps 7 & 8, van Gisbergen stayed out past half-race distance, with Triple 8 making the move of giving him tyre life at the end of the race to hunt down McLaughlin, who was starting to stretch his legs in clear air.
Unfortunately for the team, he had a net loss by staying out long term, dropping back in behind Pye and Percat, and just ahead of Mostert, in what was effectively 4th place.
Starting from 3rd, Mark Winterbottom stayed out until Lap 26, and he would rejoin behind Whincup in 9th on the road (2 cars hadn’t stopped), but, he had fresh rubber to make a potential charge for a maiden podium in a Holden.
Frosty quicky disposed of Whincup, then he passed Mostert, and was all over the rear of Gizzy, leaving a rather large imprint on the Holden’s rear guard, but Gizzy was able to stay ahead by rolling out of the throttle in the mid corner at Turn 1, effectively allowing Frosty to bump him and compromise his own exit.
Ultimately, Frosty would grab Gizzy with 4 laps to go, giving him a tap into Turn 4, and as they ran up to the hairpin, both drivers gave each other enough space to attempt a reply, but the Irwin #18 had the better grip and took 4th place.
That incident was investigated by the stewards in the days since, but Frosty was given the all-clear.
But out in front, once again thanks to a ripping race start, McLaughlin made it a clean sweep of Hidden Valley, winning by 13.8 seconds to Percat, and Pye made it 3 podiums during Supercars’ visit to the Top End, with teammate Winterbottom’s 4th place cementing what had to be the best weekend yet for Charlie Schwerkolt’s team.
With Whincup finishing 7th, McLaughlin’s championship lead was extended even further to 177 points (1324 against 1147), with Whincup a further 168 ahead of van Gisbergen, moved into 3rd in the standings over Mostert, Nick Percat moved from 8th to 5th, as the trucks were loaded up on Sunday evening, and the Supercars circus headed to Townsville to start another double-header from this weekend.
There’s no rest for this weary band of travellers.
Also, after last week’s chaos, there was no appearance of the Safety Car at any point in the 3 races.
Drivers these days, they’re too smart to thump into a tyre barrier.