Repco The Bend Supersprint
Circuit: The Bend Motorsport Park, Tailem Bend
After venturing north of the Murray River for well over a month, the Supercars Circus was back in South Australia for the second time in 2020, for a Tailem Bend double-header that was originally meant to host the 500km Enduro, then wasn’t even on the original revised calendar, but, considering the Series won’t be visiting Winton or Sandown anytime soon, The Bend was restored to the Series with a double-header.
Of course, Bathurst is now only a month away (So is my birthday, mind you), and as you may or may not know, Garry Rogers Motorsport are making a comeback wildcard appearance, and keeping up his historical commitment to bringing up young drivers, Garry was hoping to have TA2 Muscle car driver Nathan Herne make his Supercars debut in the GRM Commodore alongside Super2 driver Tyler Everingham, but that’s hit a snag, with Motorsport Australia denying Herne dispensation for a superlicense, on the grounds that he has no experience in Supercars, Super2 or Super3, combined with the risk of stepping straight into a Supercar at Mount Panorama at age 18.
For the time being, GRM have said they won’t take part without Herne, but it appears they have no other choice.
And the other major news – Scott McLaughlin will make his long-awaited IndyCar debut for Team Penske in the final round of the series in St Petersburg, Florida on October 25, the week after Bathurst.
I’m obviously not a smart man, but I’d think this year’s Great Race will be Scotty’s last Supercars appearance for the foreseeable future, and COVID permitting, he’ll be in IndyCar full time from 2021 – Which was the original plan before reality was altered.
Race 25 (24 Laps)
The rain hit hard during Practice 2 on Saturday morning, giving some cause for excitement that the great equaliser could make for an exciting qualifying session, although conditions did clear up by the afternoon.
Shane van Gisbergen was fastest in both Qualifying sessions before the Top 15 shootout, but he was upstaged by Chaz Mostert, who had only qualified 11th, but found some 6-tenths and set a 1.47.9688, unchallenged by all except McLaughlin, who missed out by 0.0057s, giving Chaz his first pole position for Holden, and WAU’s first pole since Garth Tander at Sydney 2016, their last race under the Holden Racing Team moniker.
The Red Bulls of van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup started 3rd and 4th respectively, with Fabian Coulthard (Starting his 200th ATCC Round) and Anton de Pasquale on the 3rd row.
At the start, McLaughlin timed his jump perfectly and got ahead of Mostert, who was ambushed by both Red Bull Holdens, with van Gisbergen making a brave move up the inside at the fast Turn 5.
Whincup was soon pressuring McLaughlin to end the opening lap, but he got a rush of blood to the privates and fired up the inside at Turn 17, only to get it wrong and lock up the rears, spearing himself and Scotty off the road and down the order, as van Gisbergen assumed the lead from Mostert, de Pasquale and Coulthard.
Whincup resumed in 10th and McLaughlin 18th, but that wouldn’t last long, as Whincup was handed a 15-second time penalty.
The only other major moment in the early laps was Waters flying off the road at Turn 18 to avoid contact with teammate Lee Holdsworth at the end of Lap 2, with the dust shower catching out a few drivers, although nobody
The first major pit stop activity came on Lap 6, when Le Brocq, Holdsworth, Whincup and McLaughlin all stopped, which was also the time for Whincup to serve his penalty, dropping him right down the order.
Tickford’s quick stop for Le Brocq proved crucial, because it got him out in clear air, and after entering in 5th spot, he was able to move up to an effective 2nd behind van Gisbergen after the Kiwi stopped on Lap 8, helped in part by Mostert briefly stalling exiting the pits.
Stalling turned out to be the least of Mostert’s problems, because the polesitter just wasn’t able to make his Soft tyres work, and spent the remainder of the afternoon going backwards.
Despite having older tyres, Le Brocq was much faster than Gizzy, whose Red Bull was crying for help with blistering rears, forming a 4-car train with Coulthard and Holdsworth, who had both passed Mostert.
Le Brocq made his first attempt at the lead at Turn 17 on Lap 18, and briefly got it done, but van Gisbergen criss-crossed the Supercheap Auto Mustang and left Jack out to dry at Turn 18, which allowed Coulthard to slide past and take 2nd!
Those moves allowed Holdsworth to close up Le Brocq’s rear wing, while McLaughlin’s comeback charge was still going, as he passed Andre Heimgartner to move up to 6th, and with Whincup struggling down in 15th, the Championship was taking another swing the way of DJR-Pesnke.
On Lap 22, van Gisbergen was still hanging on for dear life, as Le Brocq was warming up for another swing at the Kiwi, firing up the inside of Coulthard with a successful divebomb at Turn 6, as McLaughlin had passed Bryce Fullwood to move up to 5th and join the train!
After a gap presented itself, McLaughlin dived up the inside of Holdsworth at Turn 14 the very same lap, but the gap closed when Lee suddenly went to turn in, McLaughlin had nowhere to go pinned up on the kerb, and around went car No.5, earning McLaughlin a 15-second penalty for a driving infringement, knocking him out of the Top 10 altogether.
It might seem a harsh punishment, considering McLaughlin had control of the car and Holdsworth (Who called Scotty “Desperate”) abruptly closed the door, but spinning a driver when you’re not at least 3/4 of a car-width alongside has been a penalty since Adam was a boy.
To play the post-race expert, Scotty should have just been more patient, considering he had no worse than 4th in his hands.
Anyway, the Lap 22 drama just kept on going, as Le Brocq made a seriously brave, yet futile move on the outside of Turn 17, and again, van Gisbergen hung him out to dry!
Hilariously, you can hear Jack’s engineer Brad Wischusen exclaiming “JACK, NOT THE OUTSIDE MATE, COME ON!”
So Coulthard was back into 2nd place, and with the better traction out of the last corner, the No.12 Shell Mustang ended the van Gisbergen resistance up the pit straight, and took the lead for the first time with 2 laps remaining!
That broke Gizzy’s resistance, and with absolutely no grip remaining, he was passed by Le Brocq 2 corners later, before being mugged by all and sundry, falling down to 10th on track by race end.
Le Brocq closed up to Coulthard on the last lap, but this crazy race belonged to Fabs, who celebrated his 200th event as a winner, his first since Perth last year, the perfect response to some crap he copped from Triple 8 after Townsville.
Not bad for a 1+1 driver.
Le Brocq returned to the podium for the first time since his win at Eastern Creek, and thanks to McLaughlin’s penalty, Bryce Fullwood was promoted to 3rd, his first Supercars podium, just ahead of Heimgartner, Waters and Rick Kelly, while Scott Pye did it AGAIN, starting 17th and ending up 7th, equaling dear old Murray Carter’s run in 1987-88 of 7 straight races starting outside the Top 10 and finishing inside the Top 10.
Of course, the ageless Carter, who kept racing until the age of 86, holds the unfortunate record of most podiums without an ATCC victory, with 20.
McLaughlin and Whincup were classified as 15th and 19th respectively, but with James Courtney (10th) and Alex Davison (18th) earning post-race time penalties for punting cars off the track, the title rivals were officially 14th and 18th, gaining an extra 2 points respectively.
I’d have to say in this was probably the best race to watch this season – And at The Bend of all places.
Race 26 (24 Laps)
With not a cloud in sight, Scott McLaughlin would dominate both Sunday morning qualifying sessions to take Pole Position for races 26 and 27, moving his career total up to 73, with van Gisbergen starting alongside his compatriot, Mostert and Coulthard on the second row, while Whincup had an afternoon to forget, starting down in 11th.
At the start, Coulthard got away better than both McLaughlin and van Gisbergen, but simply ran out of room behind his teammate, while van Gisbergen used the cleaner racing line to go around the outside of No.17 and take the lead out of Turn 1.
Mostert made a big lunge on Fabs into Turn 6 on Lap 2, with McLaughlin inadvertently helping his teammate hold position when Mostert got too close and compromised his corner exit.
After yesterday’s tyre woes, Red Bull went for a conservative strategy and kept Gizzy out longer while he managed the wear, while conversely, Mostert and Andre Heimgartner (From 6th) were the first of the early stoppers on Lap 5/6, with McLaughlin pitting on the next lap and losing out to Mostert, who was going hard early, which is part of what caused him so much grief on Saturday.
Having started outside the Top 10, Whincup’s afternoon went from bad to worse when the air spikes didn’t activate during his Lap 12 pit stop, costing No.88 an extra 9 seconds in stationary time, sending him plummeting down the order, and it would take another McLaughlin penalty to save Whincup from losing a huge chunk of points to the Championship leader.
Getting much better mileage thanks to avoiding a pursuit of fastest laps, Van Gisbergen stayed out until Lap 13, avoiding any air spike issues that had plagued Whincup, and the Kiwi rejoined right behind Mostert and McLaughlin, and the notoriously tough racer wasted no time folding in McLaughlin’s right rear guard at Turn 4, before Scotty gave his compatriot the space to pass without incident at Turn 6, thinking about ‘the bigger Championship picture.’
It seems Shane just cannot go a weekend without feeling the cold touch of a rear spoiler.
With grip in spades over his nearest rivals, Van Gisbergen reclaimed the lead from Mostert at Turn 1 to start Lap 15, and it looked like Mostert’s tyres were preparing for a bungee jump.
Sensing the moment, McLaughlin lined up up a pass on the WAU Holden out of Turn 5, but absolutely nobody saw Andre Heimgartner behind, and right as Scotty peeled out, the Kiwi swallowed them both in one fell swoop to take 2nd at Turn 6!
Almost a complete and utter disaster, but spectacular nonetheless!
Eventually, McLaughlin got by the flailing Mostert for 3rd, and having spent most of the race tucked in behind, Cameron Waters in the Monster Mustang was also suffering serious blistering on his front left tyre, with Percat behind him also suffering from blistering on his Brad Jones Commodore, leaving them both tenuously clinging on to 4th and 5th, with the likes of Kelly Coulthard and De Pasquale breathing down their backs after sending Mostert on his way.
Having lost out in the pit stops, Coulthard had worked his way back to 5th, and Waters’ rubber became so worn that Coulthard gained 2.2 seconds on Lap 23 alone, and with no possible resistance, Fabs barely had to raise a sweat to take 4th, a somewhat significant moment because it put 4 Kiwis in the Top 4 places, the first time that’s happened in an ATCC race.
While van Gisbergen was easily managing the gap to Heimgartner at 1.6 seconds, with McLaughlin 0.7 behind the NED Mustang, the final laps were probably more memorable for Percat and Waters getting ambushed by Kelly, De Pasquale and David Reynolds, so much so they were lucky to even finish in the Top 10, something Mostert couldn’t achieve after Le Brocq beat him in a photo finish.
Ultimately, having had control of the race for all bar one lap, van Gisbergen claimed his third win in the last four races, Heimgartner got his second podium of 2020, and McLaughlin finished 3rd, and combined with Whincup finishing 17th, that pushed the Championship lead to 201 points.
It was worth noting that at this point, both of the Kelly Racing Mustangs had finished both races inside the Top 6, by far their best results since they had made the manufacturer switch.
I suppose it wasn’t out of the blue, considering the team had racked up podiums at The Bend back when they were running the Nissan Altimas.
Race 27 (24 Laps)
As previously mentioned, Scott McLaughlin made it a sweep of the Sunday pole positions, once again starting alongside Chaz Mostert, and this time around Jamie Whincup was much closer to his main rival, starting 3rd alongside Fabian Coulthard, with Nick Percat and Shane van Gisbergen on the 3rd row.
At the start, McLaughlin timed his jump to perfection, joined by teammate Coulthard, who had a clean run down the outside this time around to move into 2nd ahead of Mostert by Turn 1 as, Percat got ahead of Whincup, with van Gisbergen slotting in behind in 5th.
Andre Heimgartner had moved up to 6th thanks to a pass on Waters at Turn 6, and the Kiwi made a pass on van Gisbergen at Turn 17, but SVG spun his compatriot turning into the corner in a fairly careless bit of driving, and in a separate incident, Jack Le Brocq was turned sideways by David Reynolds, making heavy contact with Mark Winterbottom, who in turn slammed into James Courtney’s right rear, leaving Courtney’s Mustang vulnerable for a t-boning, but thankfully JC just spun into the infield and out of harm’s way.
That wasn’t the end of the chaos, because was another incident at Turn 6 on Lap 2, between Bryce Fullwood, Alex Davison and at Turn 6, where Fullwood fired up the inside, only to spear into Davison and run him off the road, earning Fullwood a penalty.
Winterbotton and Courtney returned to the pits and retired, avoiding a Safety Car, Heimgartner dropped to 18th, and van Gisbergen was given a 15-second time penalty, which he served at his pit stop.
So with the DJR-Penske cars running 1-2, they could pretty much manage their pace and tyres until the stops, because Mostert and Percat had dropped a second behind, while Whincup was up to 4th after passing Percat just before the BJR Commodore peeled in on Lap 7.
McLaughlin had stretched the lead to Coulthard out to 4 seconds by the time Coulthard stopped on Lap 10, emerging back in clear air, while Whincup continued the on-track action with a pass on Mostert at Turn 6 on Lap 11.
Able to run much longer compared to races 25 and 26, McLaughlin pitted on Lap 13 with an 8 second lead to Whincup, re-emerging with fresh rears and a still-healthy lead to Coulthard.
Also showing good tyre management, Whincup stayed out until Lap 14, re-emerging just behind a resurgent Anton De Pasquale, who had pitted on Lap 8 from 10th after starting 18th, and was now an effective 3rd place!
Still, Whincup was looking good to finish on the podium, with the simple advantage of tyre life over the Erebus Commodore.
Running up the front with Scott Pye, van Gisbergen peeled in on Lap 15, changing all 4 tyres (Quite possibly the only 4 tyre stop of the weekend) and serving his 15-second penalty, dropping him right behind Zane Goddard as the last remaining car on track in 22nd.
Pye and Todd Hazelwood were the last cars to stop on Lap 16, returning the official order to McLaughlin, Coulthard, De Pasquale, Whincup, Percat and Waters.
Heimgartner was also making a serious recovery, running as high as 6th thanks to an early stop before Waters had passed him, while Pye’s strategy was coming home to roost, mainly thanks to actually putting in a good performance in qualifying (9th), which has so often forced him to play catch-up.
Having been caught up in the Lap 1 chaos, Le Brocq had to pit again on Lap 17 due to a massive left rear lockup, while Jack Smith also had to make a second stop on Lap 20 after puncturing his front right tyre.
As Mostert fell off the face of the earth with tyre wear yet again, Percat was also seriously struggling with his tyres again, having suffered from rear blistering before his stop, followed by a massive drop from 6th to 15th in the space of 2 laps between Laps 17 and 19.
Back to the front, and with the faster car, Whincup was seriously challenging De Pasquale for the last podium position, and the Red Bull Holden made a huge lunge at Turn 6 on Lap 20, which ended in Whincup massively locking up and almost wiping out the Erebus Commodore.
Whincup redressed the move to avoid another time penalty, and his second attempt at Turn 17 was much cleaner, and that was the podium spots decided there and then.
It just wasn’t a weekend without a McLaughlin win, and the 2-time champ led pretty much all the way to take out Race 27, with Coulthard 1.8 seconds behind for the first DJR-Penske 1-2 of the season, a huge result for the Team’s Championship, with Whincup 3rd to end a tough weekend on a positive note, De Pasquale’s pace in clear air got him from 18th to 4th, and Waters held off Pye’s hard charge to finish 5th and 6th respectively – That 5th also promoted Waters to 3rd in the Championship.
Gizzy recovered from 20th to 14th after his penalty.
In a weekend where Soft tyre management proved the key, Chaz Mostert seemed to cop the worst tyre problems of anyone, failing to record a Top 10 finish despite starting all 3 races inside the Top 3.
A similar story for Croweater Nick Percat, although Nick did record Top 10 finishes before he plummeted to 17th in that last race – Both drivers will have to figure out a solution by this Saturday.
So a fortnight after pretty much getting sledged by Whincup with his 1+1 team comment about DJR-Penske, Fabian Coulthard accrued the most points of any driver and took out the traditional Round victory, although I don’t even think Supercars have handed out Round wins since 2008.
I think Fabs made a fair comment when he was asked about his performances compared his teammate following Race 27:
“He’s (Scott McLaughlin) obviously won two championships and is going for his third, so it’s not easy to make someone look average – but you have got to remember that he has been flogging everybody, not just myself.“
With 2 rounds to go, McLaughlin’s lead to Whincup is now 215 points (2062 vs 1847), while DJR-Penske bolted into the lead of the Team’s Championship, turning a 42 point deficit into a 104 point lead with the problems both Red Bull HRT drivers hit throughout the weekend.
Not bad for a 1+1 Team.
So if the Series were to go to Bathurst with this lead, if Whincup & Craig Lowndes were to win, McLaughlin and Tim Slade would need to finish no lower than 20th.
Still, there’s one last round at The Bend to come.