Today we conclude the countdown of the top 10 moments of a remarkable Supercars Championship season in 2019.
While Part 1 featured several exits and endings, and one Safety Car controversy, Part 2 is dominated by the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000- and championship-winning driver and team.
The introduction of the Ford Mustang would probably have been the early favourite for the year’s biggest storyline according to most observers, and so it proved to be for the first three quarters of 2019.
While test days are somewhat opaque with respect to determining a form guide, the performance of Ford’s new Supercar in the official pre-season test turned out to be indicative of how it would dominate much of the season.
Mustangs swept the top three at Phillip Island a fortnight prior to the first race event of the year, with Tickford Racing’s Cameron Waters nicking top spot from DJR Team Penske’s Fabian Coulthard at the very end of the day, and Chaz Mostert slotting into third (timing had shown James Moffat to be in Car #55 but Tickford advised that its primary driver was behind the wheel).
Although still running with a 5.0-litre V8 powerplant, the Mustangs were a further utilisation of the Gen2 regulations given that they were the first two-door cars in the Supercars era.
The morphing of the car’s shape to fit Supercars’ control chassis specifications raised eyebrows, and will influence the category’s direction regarding the Gen3 regulations which are set to take effect in 2022.
Of all the subplots in the parity saga which raged for virtually the entire season, it was perhaps the secret changes to the ZB Commodore ahead of June’s Darwin Triple Crown which was most emblematic of the controversy.
With the Mustang having burst out of the blocks in Adelaide and also swept the second event at Albert Park, centre of gravity changes were hastily imposed on the Mustang and ZB Commodore in time for the Symmons Plains weekend (Centres of gravity were uniformly reduced, including for the Nissan Altima, later in the year once Supercars had a chance to refine that aspect of parity).
The Mustangs additionally had their rear wing endplates, rear wing gurney flaps, and front undertray extensions reduced in size ahead of May’s Pirtek Perth SuperNight (Event 5).
The ZBs then fronted for Event 7 at Darwin’s Hidden Valley with a tweak to the angle of their front undertray extensions and rear wing angles.
Supercars attempted to keep those changes quiet but they were revealed by Speedcafe.com in the story which won Breaking News Story of the Year at the industry’s Supercars Media Awards.
Aerodynamic adjustments to the front and rear of the Altima were approved ahead of Event 10 at The Bend before a further change to the package in time for the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, two events later.
In the intervening period, the ZBs also had a second set of aerodynamic changes, namely a new rear wing gurney flap, extension of the front undertray, and removal of the hatchback’s road car brake light detail.
Aside from the frustration that the regularity of the changes caused fans and many competitors, a general increase in downforce relative to 2018 specifications had a detrimental impact on the quality of racing.
Supercars has moved to address both of those problems with a more thorough homologation process, through which it has already had one pass but will redo in the new year.
Scott McLaughlin’s emphatic championship victory is yet another story that might rank higher on such a list in any normal year but was overshadowed by two Bathurst 1000 controversies which each involved the New Zealander to at least some degree.
His maiden Bathurst 1000 victory was, however, one eighteenth of his haul of race wins over the campaign, a new record for both the Supercars Championship and Team Penske in general.
In a sign of the respect he still enjoys from his peers, McLaughlin was voted the Drivers’ Driver ahead of the end-of-season gala and Penrite Racing boss Barry Ryan also moved to congratulate the man himself despite being among the most vocal about DJR Team Penske’s Bathurst indiscretions.
Furthermore, while the Mustang may have been a superior race car for much of the season, only two other Ford drivers (three if McLaughlin’s Pirtek Enduro Cup co-driver, Alexandre Premat, is counted) won races, and only three between them.
The Supercars paddock was rocked during the Sandown 500 weekend when DJR Team Penske and its #17 entry were handed a $30,000 fine and grid penalty respectively for a breach of engine regulations at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, at which they took victory.
Stewards found that the engine which the car had used up to and inclusive of the Top 10 Shootout, before being replaced for precautionary reasons on the eve of the race itself, had exceeded maximum allowed valve lift.
While they did not find evidence that the breach was deliberate or known, nor that it had caused a performance gain, and did deem the engine used in the race as legal, the matter was still highly controversial.
In addition to the tangible penalties noted above, stewards also officially stripped Scott McLaughlin of his Bathurst pole position and the practice lap record which he achieved with it.
The win, which was achieved from pole position on the physical race track, did stand.
Exacerbating the sense of ill-feeling about the engine breach, DJR Team Penske had been issued a record fine and the maximum possible points penalty just three weeks earlier for what they admitted was a deliberate breach of sporting regulations in the very same race.
The Stapylton outfit was fined $250,000 ($100,000 suspended) and relieved of 300 teams’ championship points for contravening the Obligation of Fairness in the FIA International Sporting Code after Fabian Coulthard was instructed to slow excessively during a Safety Car period in the Bathurst 1000.
Car #12, driven by Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto, was additionally relegated from sixth to 21st, making them the last classified finishers, having already served an in-race drive-through penalty for the breach.
On this occasion, there was no penalty issued against the #17 Mustang of Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Premat, who had both become Bathurst 1000 winners for the first time.
What had appeared a not especially remarkable case of a team’s second car attempting to avoid a double stack came under more scrutiny due to the behaviour of team boss Ryan Story in a television interview which took place shortly after the incident, as well as the mispronunciation and emphasis of the word ‘debris’ by Coulthard’s engineer in a radio transmission during the slowdown, and the stated justification that Car #12 had been overheating.
Stewards suspected that Coulthard might have been instructed to slow in order to protect Car #17, which had become strategically vulnerable as a result of the timing of the Safety Car period in question, and the results of the race remained provisional for almost a full week.
While stewards ultimately stated that they were “prepared to assume that there was no intention to advantage Car #17”, they did decide that the “calculated attempt to conceal why it was being done” was deserving of a much harsher penalty against the team and Car #12.