Scott McLaughlin says that he expected Triple Eight to implement team orders to boost Shane van Gisbergen’s championship chances in the latter stages of Race 29 at Pukekohe.
McLaughlin found himself under pressure while leading from Jamie Whincup in the final laps and a change of position would have cost the Ford driver 12 championship points.
Once it looked like that would not occur, Whincup slowed midway through the final lap after an apparently cryptic radio message about low fuel.
The manoeuvre allowed van Gisbergen, who was more than 10 seconds behind, to blaze past in the other Red Bull Holden for a gain of nine championship points.
A fortnight earlier on the Gold Coast, Shell V-Power Racing had short-filled its #12 FGX Falcon during a pit stop under Safety Car, saving McLaughlin’s Car #17 from stacking while compromising Fabian Coulthard’s and Tony D’Alberto’s hopes of winning the race.
McLaughlin was unconcerned by what appeared to be team orders from his championship rival’s brains trust.
“I expected it,” said the DJR Team Penske driver.
“I didn’t actually know where Shane was (but) obviously knew that he was probably in third when Jamie backed off a fair bit.
“I was kind of relieved but kind of knew ‘Oh well, he didn’t really gain that much’.
“But it is what it is, and I think we probably would have done the same.”
As events of 2017 demonstrated, however, those nine to 12 points could prove crucial come Sunday afternoon in Newcastle in three weeks’ time.
Given that McLaughlin’s and van Gisbergen’s finishes at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint were a mirror image from Saturday to Sunday, the gap between the two is a net unchanged 14 points.
That margin is two points more than the difference between winning and coming second in either race in Newcastle, putting paid to any thoughts of a conservative approach to at least the penultimate race of the season.
The Coates Hire Newcastle 500 takes place from November 23-25.