Motorsport Wednesday: Townsville Supercars, Part One

Major pile-up on the corner of Boundary Street and Charters Towers Road

Circuit: Reid Park Street Circuit, Townsville

Barely a week after the double header in the Top End, the Supercars Circus hit the road to North Queensland for Round 6 of the Championship in Townsville, which will also play host to Round 7 of the Championship this coming weekend, although not in the traditional 2-race 400km format which proved such a hit before the year 2020, instead being known as the Townsville SuperSprint.

Speaking of the 2020 Calendar, it received one final series of revisions this week:

After Townsville, The Bend in South Australia will host a a double header to end September, largely thanks to the Queensland Raceway round never getting off the negotiating table, and the fact that there was no way the Sandown round was possible.

The result of no Ipswich round is that for the first time since 1969, there won’t be an ATCC round in South East Queensland.

AND, just as it was in 1999 and 2000, the Bathurst 1000 will serve as the series finale, having been pushed back a week to October 18 to give the Victorian teams a rest after all the travelling, and to honour the contract with the NSW Government to hold the last round in NSW.

According to The Bend’s owner Sam Shahin, they want to use different circuit layouts across the weekends, similar to what Formula 1 will be doing at Bahrain in December – I don’t suppose their 7.7km endurance layout is off the table.

Hopefully they do change the layouts, because both rounds at The Bend since it opened in 2018 haven’t exactly set the world on fire.

So with all that in mind, the 2020 season will consist of 11 rounds (If you count the aborted Grand Prix), and with 4 remaining, that left Scott McLaughlin with a goal on the quest for the 3-peat – Get a 301 point lead by the time the Series leaves Tailem Bend.

Race 19 (39 Laps)

Triple 8 have thoroughly cleaned everyone’s clock almost every year the series has visited Townsville, and it looked set to carry on after Jamie Whincup claimed Pole in the revised Top 10 Shootout for Race 19 with a 1.12.0248 ahead of David Reynolds and Chaz Mostert.

Appropriately for the 7-time champion in Car 88, it was his 88th career Pole Position.

In a study of contrasts Scott McLaughlin made a mistake at Turn 1 on new tyres in Q2, cost himself several tenths, and would have to start down in 16th, his worst Qualifying performance in yonks, leaving the door ajar for Whincup to eat into the 177-point deficit.

Before the race, Scotty (I assume jokingly) predicted there would be a Turn 2 pile-up, and funnily enough, that’s exactly what happened on the opening lap.

As the leaders cleared their way through Turn 2, Shane van Gibsergen and Mark Winterbottom made nose to tail contact, which led to Gizzy bumping and spinning Anton de Pasquale ahead of him, sparking a chain reaction that saw half the field caught up.

Rick Kelly, Jack Le Brocq and Zane Goddard were delayed but relatively unscathed, Alex Davison had a guard folded on to a tyre, while van Gisbergen had his passenger side caved in, while Macauley Jones, Todd Hazelwood and Andre Heimgartner all had to retire at various stages due to damage.

Van Gisbergen later re-emerged looking like a lemon and finished 9 laps behind in 19th, while McLaughlin got his rear bumper folded in by Alex Davison just avoiding the carnage, but he avoided serious damage and claimed a lazy 8 spots by hugging up the inside behind Lee Holdsworth

The whole thing was declared a racing incident as no one driver could be blamed, and the Safety Car somehow wasn’t needed, as Whincup built an early lead over Mostert, who had passed Reynolds, who couldn’t resists Cameron Waters when the Monster Mustang passed him on Lap 6.

In a bid to recover a bit of time, McLaughlin was the first driver to pit on Lap 8 for 3 tyres, but the goal of getting clean air was ruined by a nervy tyre change, and Holdsworth and Scott Pye (Who were both ahead of him on track before the stops) pitting and emerging ahead of him the next lap, which ruined any chance car 17 had of making up more points.

Still, that’s what happens when you qualify poorly.

With not much else going on as Whincup’s lead extneded to 3.5 seconds, Mostert pitted for 4 tyres on Lap 16 and emerged ahead of Pye to begin a charge at the Red Bull, which T8 recognised and pitted Whincup for 3 tyres, and despite the WAU Commodore closing the gap down to only 1.55 seconds in the immediate laps after the stops, Whincup steadied and began pulling away gain.

Still stuck behind Holdsworth, McLaughlin’s afternoon encountered a few more problems when Fabian Coulthard pitted and emerged just behind him at half race distance, with McLaughlin deciding not to fight the faster Fabs, who took absolutely no time passing Holdsworth, and James Courtney came along and did the same thing, leaving McLaughlin in an effective 9th position.

Waters lost 2 spots to Pye and Reynolds as a result of staying out until Lap 24, however had had the much younger tyres to charge home at the podium places (He barely wasted a lap devouring Pye), while Nick Percat’s near certain Top 6 finish went begging after his engine expired on Lap 24, becoming the third Brad Jones Commodore to retire, which also dropped him 5th to 9th in the Championship.

As Whincup had broken the back of Mostert with 10 laps to go, Reynolds was now seriously struggling with grip, which was apparent when Waters reeled him in and passed the Erebus Commodore with clinical ease at Turn 11.

Such was Reynolds’ problems that Coulthard took chunks out of the gap and passed him for 4th with 8 laps remaining, while Waters wasn’t done moving up the order, pulling another Turn 11 move on Mostert on Lap 35 to secure 2nd place.

From the Supercars Twitter

In their previous days at Tickford, you could’ve put the house on Cam and Chaz somehow taking each other out.

Out in front though, Whincup would salute the chequered flag at Townsville for the 11th time in 24 starts, with Red Bull ironically toppling Monster Energy, while Mostert’s podium put him back above Van Gisbergen to 3rd in the standings.

McLaughlin was able to recover 9 spots and finish 7th, having found his way past the struggling Holdsworth and Pye in the closing stages, although he did lose a small chunk of his championship lead, which went down to 141 points.

There was some good scraps for the minor placings, particularly Pye and De Pasquale nearly dead-heating for 9th and 10th place, which went the way of Pye by a mere 7-hundredths, and Chris Pither had his best result in the Coke Commodore, only 3-tenths behind the pair in 11th, having started 23rd.

The only impediment that Whincup faced all day was his radio malfunctioning from Lap 15 onwards, which led to him not knowing when he’d actually finished the race, which wasn’t helped by the flag waiver making a half-arsed effort waving the chequered flag.

Besides that, on the cooldown lap, Whincup parked on the pit straight, thinking the podium ceremony would be held there as it was in Darwin, when it was actually in the pit lane again – Another consequence of having no radio.

From the Supercars Twitter

Fun fact – Jamie got a $2,000 fine for breaching the End Of Race Procedures (Not returning the car directly to the pit lane) because of that.

Race 20 (39 Laps)

The first of the Sunday Qualifying sessions featured a familar story- Whincup was on pole by 0.13 seconds to Mostert (Whincup covered that $2000 fine with both Poles), with James Courtney and Cam Waters the best of the Fords on the 2nd Row, with both Erebus cars in the 3rd Row, as McLaughlin’s troubles continued by only qualifying 13th fastest, which was apparently the first time he’s started outside the Top 10 in consecutive races since the 2017 Gold Coast 600.

Once again, the Championship leader needed to perform a rescue act to stop leaking points, similar to that weird ad for Flex Tape that I always see on Pay TV.

Come the start, Whincup and Mostert were the best cars away as several cars went 4 wide into Turn 1, although this time there was no carnage to report, as McLaughlin was getting boxed around (Le Brocq almost spun him at Turn 4) and actually dropped 2 spots to 15th, immediately 10 seconds behind the race leader after only 3 laps.

Courtney would win the early fight for 3rd place, and Reynolds would also pass Waters, who had to settle into 5th.

Unsurprisingly, the first car to pit was McLaughlin (Who was stuck behind Macauley Jones) on Lap 8, with DJR-Penske going for another 3 tyre stop to get him out of traffic, which they followed up by servicing Coulthard the next lap, as it looked like the pit crews were struggling in the humidity.

Unlike Saturday, the early stops worked with none of his immediate rivals pitting, allowing McLaughlin the benefit of fresh air in second-last on the road, making a massive net gain up to Nick Percat, who emerged only 2.5 seconds ahead in what was effectively 7th place.

Waters pitted on Lap 12, emerging just ahead of Percat, and Courtney pitted the next lap, with a good stop from Tickford keeping him just ahead of the sister Mustang despite some considerable pressure from Cam, as De Pasquale (Who was 6th) suffered a slow left rear change, dropping him behind Coulthard for a lap, but the Erebus Commodore set himself up for a pass at Turn 3, but that stop really rooted his race.

From the Supercars Twitter

Whincup stayed out and led by 6 seconds to Mostert at half race distance, and behind them, Gizzy was very strong at the end of his set of tyres, passing Reynolds for 3rd on the road at the final turn as the raced ticked over to Lap 20.

Mostert pitted at the end of Lap 20, and he actually lost ground and track position to Courtney and Waters, possibly the result of having to wait for Reynolds merging in front of him.

Van Gisbergen pitted on Lap 21 and was out ahead of Coulthard, and Whincup was finally in the next lap, emerging back in 5th on the road, the only time he wasn’t in the lead during the race.

In a mirror of the pass that decided 2nd in Race 19, Mostert passed Waters at Turn 11 on Lap 22, then he passed Courtney at the same spot on Lap 23, and it was back as you were before the stops.

From the Supercars Twitter

The last car to stop was Scott Pye on Lap 27, leaving Whincup in the lead from Mostert, Courtney, Waters, Percat, McLaughlin and van Gisbergen.

In another case of making a long opening stint work, Gizzy was on much younger tyres than the other drivers clearing the Top 10, as shown when he easily passed both de Pasquale and McLaughlin (Scotty made a business call and let him by) to move into the Top 6, and not long after that, No.97 had rounded up Percat and Courtney to move into 4th place, and it was just a matter of time before the Kiwi rounded up Waters for 3rd place, which occurred on Lap 34 with a relatively simple pass into Turn 2.

From the Supercars Twitter

Further down, Courtney seemingly had the worst grip of any of the top runners, and several laps after both Waters and van Gisbergen picked off the Mustang, Percat finally got a pass done on the 2010 Champion at Turn 2 on Lap 35, which invited McLaughlin to slot in behind and fire in a pass at Turn 3 to jump to 6th place, clawing back more vital points.

I noticed several times during the race that Fox Sports kept pissing up the Championship standings – There was a point early on where they had Whincup jumping ahead of McLaughlin, even though it wasn’t mathematically possible with a maximum of 100 points for a win.

McLaughlin and Percat spent the final laps together without exchanging positions, and some 24 seconds up the road, Whincup made it back to back wins in Townsville, this time by 3 seconds to Mostert, as Van Gisbergen’s charge home saw both Red Bull Holdens on the podium.

Another noteworthy performance – Scott Pye started 19th and powered home to finish 9th, passing Reynolds on the last lap.

Whincup’s 122nd career win (There could be more, I’ve lost count) and McLaughlin’s 6th placing saw the Championship lead down to 109 points, but the ball was soon back in the court of the 2-time defending champion, with one race to go in the weekend.

Race 21 (39 Laps)

With light rain hitting the circuit as the second qualifying session began on Sunday Morning, it looked like Nick Percat would claim his maiden pole position after besting Jamie Whincup with a 1:12.222s, but Cam Waters went out for a late run and moved himself from last to top spot with a 1:12.202s, but Scott McLaughlin finally got a qualifying lap together as the session was expiring, and went top with a 1:12.1793.

From the Supercars Twitter

Had that lap gone wrong, McLaughlin would’ve started from 12th.

So Percat was 3rd, Whincup started from 4th, and Todd Hazelwood was finishing strong, starting from 5th place.

It was also big because McLaughlin had what Mark Larkham described later on as the best set of tyres waiting for him at his first stop, just to further hammer home his apparent advantage.

Later that afternoon, McLaughlin started the best and settled back into his familiar role of pacemaker, while the eye-catcher was Percat, who jumped like a rocket from 3rd on the grid and was brave enough to fire up the inside of both Waters and Whincup on the dirty side of Turn 1, and took 2nd place, albeit briefly, because Waters moved back to his original grid slot the next lap.

From the Supercars Twitter

Further down, Coulthard had stalled and fell to 20th, van Gisbergen had started down in 13th but got bashed around the ear hole by Scott Pye and lost 2 spots to sit 15th.

Eventually, the race settled down without much action, as McLaughlin led by just on a second to Waters, while Whincup was content to just hang on the rear of Percat and go long on his opening stint.

Percat was the first of the Top 5 cars to pit on Lap 15 (Along with Reynolds in 6th), changing all 4 tyres, and Tickford called Waters in on Lap 16, followed by McLaughlin on Lap 17/18.

The Tickford crew changed 4 tyres on the Waters Mustang, while DJR-Pesnke went for the usual 3 brand spanking new tyres, and that was the difference, because McLaughlin was able to save a bit of time and rejoined barely ahead of Waters, who put a huge amount of pressure on the series leader in some captivating racing.

From the Supercars Twitter

Waters made about 6 half-looks under braking to keep McLaughlin on his toes, but the Kiwi didn’t flinch.

That carried on for a good 6 laps, in which time they were actually able to pass Coulthard before he’d stopped, while Whincup stayed out until Lap 25, and Triple 8 made the sound move of only changing the rear tyres, slotting Whincup ahead of Percat for an effective podium.

So in the only race of the weekend where he wasn’t in a rescue mindset, McLaughlin powered on to his seventh win of 2020, Waters fired his best shot but couldn’t find a way past in 2nd, 4 seconds behind the winner, Whincup finished 3rd and easily scored the most points of any driver this weekend, Percat started 4th and finished 4th, and Hazelwood started 5th, and finished 5th after picking off the early stoppers.

Pye really made a habit of charging home – This time he went from 15th to 6th, and joining him was van Gisbergen, who ended a rollercoaster weekend by moving from 13th to 8th.

Chaz Mostert’s weekend ended on a sour note – He was running around in midfield, made his stop, then suffered a deflating right rear tyre and had to stop again, spending the remainder of the race anchored to last place.

However, with Gizzy also having one bad race this weekend, Mosterts maintains 3rd place in the Championship.

Now as we approach Townsville Part 2, McLaughlin’s lead to Whincup was slashed to 123 points, while Triple 8 reclaimed the lead in the Team’s Championship, moving 16 points ahead of DJR-Pesnke.

Funnily enough, for the second weekend running, there were no Safety Car interventions.

May as well sell it and make a bit of cash for the Series.

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