Australian Supercars; NASCAR Cup; TC2000
JAMIE WHINCUP WILL HEAD INTO THE final Supercars round of the season with a 30-point series lead after winning the Jason Richards Trophy in New Zealand.
The Red Bull Holden driver backed up a fourth place from Saturday’s opening 200-kilometre race at Pukekohe with a controlled win over chief title rival and local hero Scott Mclaughlin on Sunday afternoon, setting up a thrilling title showdown ahead of the finale in Newcastle (that’s the New South Wales Newcastle, as opposed to the Geordie one) later this month.
The pair were inseparable all weekend; on Saturday they spent the first two stints scrapping for the lead, the battle getting physical enough that then-leader Whincup was at one point slapped with a bad sportsmanship flag for shutting the door on the DJR Penske Ford.
As it transpired, it was all for third spot at best. A late caution changed the running order at the top of the field, and Mclaughlin and Whincup were baulked as they came up on the safety car after making their stops. The delay was enough to let Shane van Gisbergen – in the sister Triple Eight-run Holden to Whincup’s – and Mark Winterbottom (Prodrive Ford), both of whom stopped a lap later, to get the jump.
With Mclaughlin leapfrogging Whincup in the stops, the points leader was resigned to fourth spot at the end of play on Saturday.
A day later, Whincup and Mclaughlin were at it again, locking out the front row for the second 200km race. This time they were in a class of their own, Whincup prevailing in a tense battle over Mclaughlin to stretch his points advantage back out to 30 and secure the prized Jason Richards Trophy.
It was a weekend when the title fight effectively became a two-horse race, with a series of bizarre incidents leaving van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert with little more than mathematical hopes.
While van Gisbergen made a strong start to the weekend with victory on Saturday, it quickly unravelled on Sunday. Coming in to make his first stop on lap 16, van Gisbergen ploughed into the back of Tim Slade at pit entry.
The damage took 14 laps to fix, the resulting 24th spot leaving him 276 points off Whincup with just 300 up for grabs in Newcastle.
Mostert fared even worse. On Saturday, the Prodrive Ford man copped a drivethrough for running into David Reynolds and dropped a heap of points. And on Sunday, while running third on the opening lap, he was an innocent bystander in a shunt between his team-mates Winterbottom and Cam Waters.
Mostert did manage to go from facing backwards on the first lap to finishing an
impressive seventh, but will need to claw back 264 points in Newcastle.
Coulthard, meanwhile, endured the most heartbreaking weekend of the contenders.
Having come into the round just 17 points off Whincup, his hopes took a serious beating when he ended up on his roof on Saturday.
The DJR Penske Ford driver was caught up in that Mostert/reynolds clash, running across the front of a recovering Reynolds as he looked to pounce on the pair. Both Reynolds and Coulthard ended up off the road, Coulthard’s car bouncing into the wall and rolling over.
It took an all-night repair to fix the car, a lack of spares due to it being an overseas race meaning the team had to weld a borrowed race car roof turret to one from a road car to make it fit the FG-X Falcon.
All things considered, Coulthard’s drive to fifth on Sunday was impressive enough, but he’s now 176 points behind Whincup.
Race 1 1 Shane van Gisbergen (Holden Commodore) 66 laps in 1h23m58.8115s; 2 Mark Winterbottom (Ford Falcon) +0.8172s; 3 Scott Mclaughlin (Ford); 4 Jamie Whincup (Holden); 5 Jason Bright (Ford); 6 Tim Slade (Holden). Race 2 1 Whincup 70 laps in 1h17m11.7118s; 2 Mclaughlin +5.9059s; 3 Cameron Waters (Ford); 4 Craig Lowndes (Holden); 5 Fabian Coulthard (Ford); 6 Garth Tander (Holden).
Points 1 Whincup 2850; 2 Mclaughlin 2820; 3 Coulthard 2674; 4 Chaz Mostert 2586; 5 van Gisbergen 2574; 6 Lowndes 2160.
Battle between Whincup and Mclaughlin stole the show on Sunday