Supercars DSA explains McLaughlin penalties
The climax to the Supercars season provided plenty of incidents and controversy as the championship was ultimately decided by a final lap penalty for Scott McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, who held a 78 point lead heading into the final race of the year, fell foul of the stewards on three occasions as an edge of the seat title decider unfolded at Newcastle.
First the Shell V-Power Racing driver copped a drive-through penalty for pit lane speeding which was questioned by the team.
He then received a 15 second penalty for pitching Nissan Motorsport’s Simona de Silvestro into a spin at Turn 2 on lap 46.
However, the most debated of the decisions by fans surrounded a 25 second penalty issued to McLaughlin for causing a collision with Craig Lowndes on the penultimate lap.
The sanction relegated him to 18th, handing the title to Jamie Whincup.
Supercars Driving Standards Advisor Craig Baird defends the calls made and sat down with Speedcafe.com’s Tom Howard to explain how and why the penalties McLaughlin received were handed down.
Baird’s view on McLaughlin’s pit-lane speeding penalty
“The Sunday started with a pit lane speeding infringement, and we still, sadly, have the public perception that we have some volunteer on a radar gun, that may or may not have liked Scott McLaughlin, or Dale Wood or Fabian Coulthard or whoever on the day gets penalised.
“It’s 2017, we don’t use a radar gun (to measure speed on entry), because everything has a plus/minus tolerance.
“We use a thousand percent accurate timing loop system, the same as Formula 1 or anyone else; every car has a timing transponder, parked in exactly the same position on the car; that transponder’s got to travel over two timing loops, five metres apart.
“It can’t get from one timing loop to the other timing loop without speeding; it’s the law of physics, there’s no magic.
“So even if it looks like the car behind closes, yes it does, because one car’s decelerating and trying to come down to 40km/h, one car’s still decelerating from 80km/h to get to 40km/h, so the gap of van Gisbergen closing looked like, ‘Ooh, how did he close the gap?’
“It’s very simple, you come up to a ‘give way’ sign, we start to slow down, the car closes, one accelerates out of the ‘give way’ sign, opens the gap back up.
“So the timing loop system’s very accurate. There is a tolerance, and I will tell you Scott was over 10 percent outside of the tolerance.”
Baird’s view on the sanction for contact with Simona de Silvestro
“He turned her around, didn’t completely wreck her day so he got the medium, the 15-second penalty and he carries on.”
Baird’s view on the Craig Lowndes clash and penalty
“Everyone’s very happy to forget the fact that he (Scott) made the error on the entry of Turn 1, which ran him wide.
“That allowed Lowndes, who was on a fresher tyre because he pitted later, to get an overlap, and then Scott’s in recovery mode, and he’s more than entitled on the second last lap to defend his position.
“This is the key to it. He is allowed to shut the door, if there’s no overlap. It’s very clear (that) Lowndes had an overlap, so then the onus goes back on Scott to give him racing room.
“You can’t defend down the inside; the pass is done, you’ve made a mistake, you’re in recovery mode, Lowndes has got the overlap, it’s the end of the story.
“So he (Scott) continues to go left, left, left. Whether the (passenger side) mirror’s there, or whatever excuse you want to use, they touch along the fence there and the question is why did he go there?
“He came out of the corner and he went hard left, to shut that hole down, but too late, and that’s the end of the story.
“When I started racing go karts at five years old, the first thing you’re taught is (that) you’re not allowed to run people off the track.
“From my point of view as the DSA, and from CAMS’ point of view and the stewards’ point of view, you can’t just turn a blind eye to it.
“I get handed a rulebook, and the rules, and the determinations of those rules, and the penalties are all pre-set by a combination of Supercars, team owners, commission members, board members, and a lot of people, including drivers.
“They always have the opportunity to change those rules year to year, or to change the penalties, so they’re all happy with them, until it bites them.
“When you run someone off or turn someone around or cause an accident, with unnecessary contact, it’s got to be penalised.”
Baird’s view on fan calls for a post-race investigation for the McLaughlin/Lowndes incident
“I can clearly see one car going from the right-hand-side of the track all the way to left, so my initial thoughts have already been triggered.
“Then, I’ve opened up a line of communication with the stewards. I have a server in front of me, I replayed it, I clearly saw that Scott made a mistake, on the mid-corner to the exit of (Turn) 1.
“I saw Lowndes go up the inside, I saw an overlap, I knew what he was trying to do, which was to shut the hole, but it was shut too late.
“There was avoidable contact, caused by Car 17, which resulted in an accident.
“It didn’t need a post-race (investigation) for me, and that is whether it was the first race of the championship or the last.”
Baird on whether the position of the wall played a factor in the decision
“No, because why did they hit the gap in the wall? Because one car crowded the other car into that gap.
“And look, we can all go in hindsight, ‘There’s a gap’; when you look at the gap, it’s such a small thing.
“It looks different from different angles but we all walked the track, every engineer walks the track, we all looked at all the gates, and it didn’t look that bad.
“But at 200km/h, with a 1400kg Supercar, or two of them, crashing into it, I would suggest that the gate actually deflected in, maybe more than what it should, or what anyone thought it would have, which resulted in the accident.
“The gate magnifies the problem. Had the gate not been there, I don’t think Lowndes would have had the accident, I agree with that.
“But Scott certainly would have lost the position, because Lowndes had already had the overlap and had the inside line.”
Baird on comparisons between the incident where Whincup pushed McLaughlin onto the grass in Race 23 at Pukekohe and the former received only a bad sportsmanship flag.
“Did anyone gain a position, lose a position, or have a crash?
“So when nothing happens… there was no wall there, I think it’s bad sportsmanship, hence a black flag warning.
But what would they want me to do, exclude him from a race because I ran a car a little bit out of road?
McLaughlin returned serve exiting the hairpin, they all want a good game, they want to play on, they want Bairdo to keep the whistle in the pocket, until it bites them in the arse.
“What we’ve tried to do this year, is to try and have a good, flowing game.
“We go on about consistency but there is no consistency in this game because every corner’s different, every incident is different, every amount of overlap is different.”
Baird on whether there was pressure to make a snap decision
“Not at all, not at all. I opened the channel up to them (the stewards), I discussed exactly my mindset. I replayed it, which took me (as long as) from the cars leaving Turn 2 until the start line, but I’ve got access to all that footage.
“I wouldn’t care if I was at an indoor go-karting race or a V8 Supercar race, you’re just not allowed to run people off the track. That’s the end of it.”