Jamie Whincup has seen off pressure from early leader Scott McLaughlin to win Race 15 of the Supercars Championship at the BetEasy Darwin Triple Crown.
Whincup jumped McLaughlin with a slightly earlier compulsory pit stop and managed to keep the championship leader behind his Red Bull Holden Racing Team ZB Commodore before pulling away in the latter stages.
Just over two seconds separated #88 from the #17 Shell V-Power Racing Team Mustang at the finish line, with Shane van Gisbergen a dozen seconds back in the second Red Bull HRT entry despite a late off.
Chaz Mostert held out Fabian Coulthard to take fourth after they ran together from the compulsory pit stop cycle until the end of the 38th and final lap around Hidden Valley Raceway.
Despite each entry having only two sets of soft compound tyres at their disposal for three races and all having eaten into their stock in at least one of the preceding encounters, all used softs from start to finish.
McLaughlin drove into the initial race lead from pole position courtesy of a strong secondary launch, from Whincup, Mostert (#25 Mobil 1 Appliances Online ZB Commodore), Coulthard (#12 Shell V-Power Mustang), and van Gisbergen (#97 ZB Commodore).
The latter went around the outside of Coulthard to pinch fourth as the still tightly packed field negotiated Turn 5, while McLaughlin held an advantage of just under half a second at the end of the standing lap.
Whincup continued to go with the #17 Mustang but the gap back to third was stretching as Mostert held up van Gisbergen, Coulthard, and also Cameron Waters (#6 Monster Energy Mustang).
More than three seconds separated the top two from the next bunch when van Gisbergen got into the rear of the #25 ZB Commodore at Turn 6, but filed back in behind Mostert on exit.
Whincup, Mostert, Coulthard, and Waters took their compulsory pit stop when the window opened on Lap 5.
Coulthard appeared to have to brake to avoid a collision with Whincup in the lane as the #88 ZB Commodore was dropped from its jacks and sent on its way with another set of soft rear tyres.
However, the DJR Team Penske driver claimed post-race that there had indeed been contact between the two, and that the incident cost him the spot to Mostert.
McLaughlin and van Gisbergen stopped on Lap 6, with the working side changed on #17 and the rears on #97.
While the former got back out just ahead of Whincup, the Triple Eight driver breezed past the Mustang on driver’s right as they braked for Turn 1.
As such the effective running order was Whincup, McLaughlin, van Gisbergen, Mostert, Coulthard, and Nick Percat (#8 R&J Batteries ZB Commodore), filling a nominal eighth to 13th at that point, with van Gisbergen initially under pressure from the two cars behind.
While #97 gapped #25, McLaughlin continued to tail Whincup by around half a second, if that much.
When Mark Winterbottom (#18 Irwin Tools ZB Commodore) pitted at the end of Lap 27 and completed the cycle, Whincup’s margin over #17 was a touch under six tenths of a second.
Van Gisbergen was around seven seconds back from his race-leading team-mate and almost four seconds ahead of Mostert, who still had Coulthard just a few lengths behind.
Filling out the top 10 at that point were Percat, Jack Le Brocq (#55 Supercheap Auto Mustang), Winterbottom, David Reynolds (#9 Penrite ZB Commodore), and Rick Kelly (#15 Castrol Mustang), with all 24 cars on ageing soft tyres.
Winterbottom made an easy move for seventh on Le Brocq at Turn 5 on Lap 32 as Coulthard continued to stalk Mostert.
Whincup grew his lead beyond a second on Lap 33, and van Gisbergen had enough margin on Mostert to run onto the grass at Turn 1 on the penultimate lap but rejoin with a buffer of around 3.5s over the Walkinshaw Andretti United car.
All told, Whincup won the race by 2.1223s and the Darwin Triple Crown on a countback having tied with Coulthard on 228 points for the event.
“That was a great battle,” said Whincup.
“It reminded me of the old ’17, ’18 days where we’d be going head-to-head with these boys.
“It was just resilience, we kept chipping away at the car all weekend and made it faster for Race 3 (of the weekend).
“I thought after the penalty yesterday we were done and dusted for the Triple Crown so it was fantastic to get right up there.”
Coulthard took the chequered flag just 0.5003s in arrears of Mostert, with the top 10 rounded out by Percat, Winterbottom, Le Brocq, Reynolds, and Kelly.
Waters ended up 11th and Saturday race winner Anton De Pasquale (#99 Penrite ZB Commodore) 23rd.
McLaughlin’s drivers’ championship lead is back to 101 points over Whincup, the same as at the start of the day, and DJR Team Penske heads Triple Eight Race Engineering by 30 in the teams’ standings.
The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship continues next weekend with another event at Hidden Valley, namely the CoreStaff Darwin SuperSprint.
Results: Race 15, BetEasy Darwin Triple Crown
|1||88||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Jamie Whincup||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:07.2487|
|2||17||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Scott McLaughlin||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:09.3710|
|3||97||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Shane van Gisbergen||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:21.6043|
|4||25||Mobil 1 Appliances Online||Chaz Mostert||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:24.5072|
|5||12||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Fabian Coulthard||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:25.0075|
|6||8||R&J Batteries||Nick Percat||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:29.8636|
|7||18||IRWIN Racing||Mark Winterbottom||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:30.2320|
|8||55||Supercheap Auto Racing||Jack Le Brocq||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:31.1067|
|9||9||Penrite Racing||David Reynolds||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:32.7176|
|10||15||Castrol Racing||Rick Kelly||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:33.9392|
|11||6||Monster Energy Racing||Cameron Waters||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:35.7238|
|12||5||Truck Assist Racing||Lee Holdsworth||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:36.7687|
|13||35||Yellow Cover Racing||Garry Jacobson||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:37.1543|
|14||34||UNIT Racing||Jake Kostecki||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:43.2944|
|15||4||SCT Motor Sports||Jack Smith||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:47.1876|
|16||7||NED Whisky Racing||Andre Heimgartner||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:48.2000|
|17||44||Boost Mobile Racing||James Courtney||Ford Mustang GT||38||44:49.2591|
|18||3||Team CoolDrive||Macauley Jones||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:49.7027|
|19||2||Mobil 1 TM Middy’s Racing||Bryce Fullwood||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:50.0340|
|20||14||Brut Military Grade||Todd Hazelwood||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:51.8752|
|21||22||Team SYDNEY||Chris Pither||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:52.9764|
|22||20||DEWALT Racing||Scott Pye||Holden Commodore ZB||38||44:54.5001|
|23||99||Penrite Racing||Anton De Pasquale||Holden Commodore ZB||38||45:08.6872|
|24||19||Local Legends Racing||Alex Davison||Holden Commodore ZB||36||44:43.9288|
|4||Shane van Gisbergen||753|
|12||Anton De Pasquale||583|
|13||Jack Le Brocq||566|