(Dis)hon­ours even af­ter messy ti­tle bout

Autosport (UK) - - WORLD OF SPORT | SUPER CARS -

AUS­TRALIAN SU­PER­CARS PUKEKOHE (NZ) NOVEM­BER 3-4 ROUND 15/16

A tense week­end both on and off the Pukekohe track ended with a win apiece for Su­per­cars ti­tle ri­vals Shane van Gis­ber­gen and Scott Mclaugh­lin.

The New Zealand cir­cuit pro­vided the per­fect set­ting for a dra­matic all-kiwi clash – mid-race penal­ties, post-race in­ves­ti­ga­tions, protests and parc ferme mind games all adding to the in­trigue.

Satur­day’s race was a clas­sic case of speed ver­sus a po­ten­tially su­pe­rior strat­egy. Van Gis­ber­gen had the pace ad­van­tage, which he demon­strated per­fectly by pass­ing Mclaugh­lin on lap 22. But DJR Team Penske played the un­der­cut game well, look­ing to give Mclaugh­lin clear air while van Gis­ber­gen bat­tled away with ei­ther lapped traf­fic or cars off-kil­ter in terms of strat­egy.

That meant van Gis­ber­gen had to go 14 laps deeper in his sec­ond stint. Triple Eight knew that hopes of track ad­van­tage were gone, but car speed and bet­ter tyre con­di­tion could still de­cide the race.

He emerged from his late sec­ond stop with a four-sec­ond deficit to leader Mclaugh­lin, but it didn’t take long for that to erode. With 10 laps to go the pair were en­gaged in a heated ex­change for the lead, which came to a head at the hair­pin. Mclaugh­lin went nar­row to try to hold van Gis­ber­gen off, the Triple Eight Holden driver re­spond­ing to the early block­ing by shov­ing the Penske Ford out of the way.

They then went side-by-side into the flow­ing fi­nal series of cor­ners as van Gis­ber­gen swept into the lead.

But it wasn’t done yet. Stew­ards deemed van Gis­ber­gen’s pass­ing tac­tics too ro­bust and hit him with a five-sec­ond penalty. Hav­ing quickly built a 3s lead, van Gis­ber­gen had al­ready backed off, but sud­denly he was be­ing told to do qual­i­fy­ing laps.

In the end he crossed the line 5.5s clear of Mclaugh­lin, which meant a 0.5s win. To add to the drama, van Gis­ber­gen brought some games­man­ship to parc ferme, pulling up so tight to Mclaugh­lin’s driver’s side door that he couldn’t get out of the car.

Be­fore the race was even over there were doubts as to whether the re­sult would stand. Dur­ing van Gis­ber­gen’s sec­ond stop, TV crews had clocked his wheels spin­ning twice while on the jacks – once when he en­gaged first gear, which is al­lowed, and again as the car was low­ered, which is gen­er­ally a no-no.

Cu­ri­ously, the mat­ter was de­layed to a post-race in­ves­ti­ga­tion rather than just be­ing pun­ished with an on-the-spot driv­ethrough. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion went late into the night, deputy race di­rec­tor Michael Masi even­tu­ally deem­ing that the wheel hadn’t turned a full ro­ta­tion and as such there was no need to re­fer it to the stew­ards.

DJR Team Penske im­me­di­ately protested the de­ci­sion, which meant a hear­ing on Sun­day morn­ing. The ar­gu­ment to strip van Gis­ber­gen of his win was based on the fact that the ‘full ro­ta­tion’ the­ory doesn’t fea­ture in the word­ing of the rule.

Had it been suc­cess­ful, it would have gone a long way to­wards de­cid­ing the ti­tle in Mclaugh­lin’s favour. With­out know­ing what the ex­act penalty would have been, it’s likely that the Ford driver’s lead would have been close to 100 points.

Af­ter a long de­lib­er­a­tion on Sun­day, enough prece­dent was es­tab­lished to stick with the orig­i­nal de­ci­sion. It raised eye­brows up and down pit­lane, and added plenty of spice to Sun­day’s race.

Once again the flash­point hap­pened dur­ing a van Gis­ber­gen stop. Hav­ing shad­owed Mclaugh­lin across the first stint, the Holden driver came in on lap 15 for his first ser­vice. It couldn’t have gone much worse, a safety stand go­ing un­der the car to make a ride­height change and not com­ing back out. That meant jack­ing

the car back up to re­trieve it be­fore van Gis­ber­gen could leave the bay, the de­lay drop­ping him to eighth.

The race at the front was then be­tween Mclaugh­lin and Jamie Whin­cup, who had pit­ted from the lead on the fifth lap and then come back into the game thanks to the un­der­cut. Van Gis­ber­gen, mean­while, had to fight his way back into con­tention, again us­ing a long sec­ond stint to give him­self plenty of pace for the short burst home.

With 10 laps re­main­ing, the race reached a crit­i­cal point – Mclaugh­lin lead­ing Whin­cup by less than a sec­ond, while van Gis­ber­gen was a fur­ther 11s down the road in third. Swap­ping the Triple Eight Hold­ens over would yield a nine-point ben­e­fit for van Gis­ber­gen. But Whin­cup pass­ing Mclaugh­lin for the lead was a 12-point swing.

Whin­cup got very close, even show­ing the nose of his Com­modore up the in­side of Mclaugh­lin’s Fal­con in the clos­ing laps. But he just couldn’t quite get the job done, Triple Eight giv­ing the reign­ing cham­pion a none-too-sub­tle ra­dio in­struc­tion to

‘save fuel’ on the fi­nal lap.

That meant van Gis­ber­gen could streak into sec­ond, re­set­ting to the same 14-point mar­gin in Mclaugh­lin’s favour that they started the week­end with. The ti­tle will be de­cided on the streets of New­cas­tle later this month in the sea­son fi­nale.

Mclaugh­lin (l) and van Gis­ber­gen (r) came to blows at the hair­pin

Scenes in parc ferme re­sem­bled any given su­per­mar­ket car park

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