Ryan Story maintains that Fabian Coulthard must and will help Shell V-Power Racing team-mate Scott McLaughlin where possible as the Supercars Championship is decided in Newcastle this weekend.
Coulthard was notably sacrificed on the Saturday of the Gold Coast 600 when co-driver Tony D’Alberto was short-filled to save stacking McLaughlin’s car.
However, he has attracted criticism from viewers and pundits for a perception that he has not done enough to make life more difficult for Shane van Gisbergen, McLaughlin’s last remaining championship rival, during the season.
Even in the aforementioned race, Coulthard gave van Gisbergen an easy pass in the latter stages, although he was low on fuel due to the short-fill.
Story, DJR Team Penske’s managing director, believes that Coulthard will play the team role at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500.
“He has got a job to do this weekend and he knows (what to do) if an opportunity arises to support Scott and the team in their quest,” Story told Speedcafe.com.
“He is a great team player.”
Van Gisbergen’s cause is also helped by the sheer numbers advantage which Triple Eight Race Engineering enjoys with three cars in its stable compared to DJRTP’s two.
Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, from the former camp, have also figured more often at the sharp end of the field than Coulthard and therefore more often been in a position to be a hassle to McLaughlin.
Coulthard finished second to McLaughlin in the Saturday race of last year’s Coates Hire Newcastle 500, before an early driveline failure took him out of action on the Sunday, and Story pointed to the former result as reason to suggest that Car #12 will be in the mix today and tomorrow.
“It is interesting, I think you saw last year that Fabian can be competitive at Newcastle,” he noted.
“He was on the podium in Saturday’s race so I see no reason why Fabian can’t be up there and be competitive too.
“The aim of the game is to roll out two competitive cars as best as we can.
“(Coulthard) has certainly had more than his fair share of challenges this year that have masked what would otherwise been stronger results.”
Mind games have also become a hot topic in the championship narrative in 2018, even more so in light of the now infamous park-in incident at Pukekohe, which van Gisbergen maintains was in fact unintentional.
Story was not entertaining the idea when asked about mind games.
“I think everyone is going to be focussed on racing; that is what it is all about,” he said.
“We are racing at Newcastle, the final round of the year, and the championship has gone down to the two best drivers at the last event with only 14 points separating them, so let’s go out there and have some fun racing.
“Hopefully on our side of the ledger it is going to be a great weekend.
“We know how to make cars go fast around that track. We learned a bit from last year and we have learned a little bit through this year. Our hope is to be competitive from the word ‘go’.
“We go into this with no expectations and we are going to do the very best job we can. We know what the objective is that is for Scott to finish in front of the #97 (van Gisbergen) and if he does that in both races there will be a trophy at the end of it.
“We know it is going to be as simple as that to get it done.”
McLaughlin’s 14-point championship lead is just over the equivalent of first position to second, 150 points to 138, in either of this weekend’s two 250km races.
For the Ford driver to clinch the title today, he must therefore finish second or better and van Gisbergen must not finish.
In any other scenario, the championship remains a live prospect for the final race of the season tomorrow.
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The next Virgin Australia Supercars Championship session is Armor All Qualifying for Race 30 at 1135 local time/AEDT.