Adelaide Race 2 winner Scott McLaughlin believes he “got away with one, absolutely” having been handed back the lead due to the first of two calamities for Shane van Gisbergen.
McLaughlin led until the first pit stops, most of which including his were served under Safety Car, when the Shell V-Power Racing Team erred strategically by allowing van Gisbergen to jump him in the lane despite occupying the first garage.
Car #97 did have a fuel disadvantage of approximately seven litres to the #17 Mustang, but van Gisbergen used the track position to clear out to a lead exceeding five seconds, much more than enough to compensate for the impending extra dwell time, by the time McLaughlin took his second stop at the end of Lap 43.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team responded by bringing their leading man in a lap later, only to botch that stop in even worse fashion by dropping van Gisbergen before he had received the minimum fuel fill.
Van Gisbergen was effectively obliged to give the spot back to McLaughlin by pitting a third time, and the back-to-back Supercars champion went on to win by more than 10 seconds.
“I saw him drop and I was like ‘Come on, come on’ and then they didn’t drop,” said McLaughlin of his first pit stop.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get out. I don’t know what the plan was but I figure they wanted to get in front.
“It worked out in the end. We got away with one there, absolutely.”
He saluted McLaughlin from aside his stricken ZB Commodore on Dequetteville Terrace as the finishers completed their cool down lap, and again back in pit lane after hitching a ride with Cameron Waters.
McLaughlin, however, was enthusiastic in his praise for his key rival.
“Full credit to Shane and his team,” said the Ford driver.
“They had a fast car today. If we were in clear air, like we were in the first stint, we might have had his measure but he was really fast once he got into clear air so he obviously had a quicker car.
“It was an awesome battle because you’ve got that gap and if one person made a mistake you dropped a little bit and if the other guy did, you get it back.
“It was tit for tat and that bodes well for the rest of the year.
“It’s going to be a big battle and it’s all going to be about consistency and I’m happy that we got all the details right this weekend.”
McLaughlin’s quest for a third straight title kicked off almost as well as it could have from a statistical perspective after he finished second in Race 1 of the season.
“It’s so important to have two good results here because you don’t want to be on the back foot,” he noted.
“I’d rather be ahead then worrying about having to claw back.”
The 26-year-old holds a 27-point championship lead on the way to Albert Park for the Beaurepaires Melbourne 400 from March 12-15.