Scott McLaughlin is poised to effectively wrap up the championship today after he won Race 29 at the OTR SuperSprint The Bend and Jamie Whincup finished seventh.
McLaughlin’s margin at the head of the standings is now 299 points, one shy of the figure he needs to extinguish Whincup’s hopes before the season-ending Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
The Shell V-Power Racing Team appeared destined for a one-two in one form or another, after Fabian Coulthard released his team-mate before the pit stops, but a driveline failure for Car #12 meant that just the #17 Mustang finished.
However, McLaughlin, who also qualified on pole for Race 30, now has a stranglehold on the championship after a mishap in the pits contributed to Whincup’s drop from third in the early stages to seventh at the chequered flag.
Instead, it was Penrite Racing’s Anton De Pasquale who was runner-up after 32 laps from Cameron Waters, with the latter’s Tickford Racing team-mate James Courtney just staving off Shane van Gisbergen at the end to claim fourth.
“A bummer about Fabs, I think we were on for a one-two there, but a huge team game by Shell V-Power Racing,” said McLaughlin.
“Fabs took it on the chin and let me go at the start; I appreciate that. He had a great car and he had a great start.
“We’ll work on it, make sure we dot our Is, cross our Ts.
“If we can get it done today, that would be fantastic. If we don’t, we’ve put ourselves in the best position come Bathurst.”
When the lights went out, Coulthard made an impressive launch from the outside of the front row to take a clear lead to the first corner.
McLaughlin, the pole-sitter, had to move to the very right of the track to cover Whincup (#88 Red Bull HRT ZB Commodore), while Waters (#6 Monster Energy Mustang) slotted into fourth.
Fifth back to 10th after the opening corners was De Pasquale (#99 ZB Commodore), Courtney (#44 Boost Mobile Mustang), Nick Percat (#8 R&J Batteries ZB Commodore), Mark Winterbottom (#18 Irwin Tools ZB Commodore), Chaz Mostert (#25 Mobil 1 Appliances Online ZB Commodore), and Rick Kelly (#15 Castrol Mustang).
Further back, van Gisbergen (#97 Red Bull HRT ZB Commodore) found himself in a battle for 17th with Garry Jacobson (#35 Yellow Cover ZB Commodore) on Lap 1, having qualified 15th.
Courtney muscled his way past De Pasquale at Turn 6 on Lap 2, allowing Percat to follow and claim sixth, while McLaughlin was being closely followed by Whincup and Waters.
McLaughlin managed to shake them somewhat and assumed the lead when Coulthard fanned the throttle between Turns 10 and 11 on Lap 7 of the race.
Car #17 was briefly the cork in the bottle again but was around 1.5s up the road from Whincup when Coulthard, who had remained between the championship combatants, pitted on Lap 9 and was followed in by Waters from fourth.
The margin from McLaughlin back to Whincup was similar when the former took service three laps later and resumed with about 1.7s on Coulthard.
Following #12 on the road were De Pasquale and Waters, the latter delayed in the pits due to a crew member having to fetch debris from Car #6’s air dam.
Whincup took advantage of clean air for three laps before he stopped, but the seven-time champion’s dwell time blew out having appeared to hit a rattle gun as he pulled into his box.
The matter was placed under investigation, although there is no word yet on any penalty.
However, Whincup’s exit from the pits confirmed that Car #88 has lost position to at least De Pasquale, Waters, and Courtney, before Percat also got in and out of the lane ahead of the Triple Eight Race Engineering entry.
Coulthard virtually matched McLaughlin for several laps and, while he had by then given up a few more tenths, was still on for second position when the #12 Mustang suffered a driveline failure on his 22nd lap.
David Reynolds’ #9 Penrite ZB Commodore suffered a similar issue all but simultaneously, drawing out the Safety Car and thus prompting van Gisbergen to pit from the official race lead.
With yellow flags out, McLaughlin led from De Pasquale, Waters, Courtney, Percat, Whincup, Mostert, Kelly, van Gisbergen, and Bryce Fullwood (#2 Mobil 1 Middy’s ZB Commodore), the latter of whom was facing a 15-second penalty for turning Jack Le Brocq (#55 Supercheap Auto Mustang) around early in the piece.
The restart came at the start of Lap 27, with McLaughlin pulling the trigger before the final corner and taking a 0.5s advantage back across the stripe.
Van Gisbergen had used the Safety Car as an opportunity to take on four fresh tyres and picked off Kelly at Turn 6 on the restart lap, before easing past Mostert at Turn 1 on Lap 29.
That meant that his next target was his team-mate and, after asking for permission to pass #88, the New Zealander executed a straightforward pass at Turn 11.
Van Gisbergen relieved Percat of fifth on Lap 31 at Turn 6 but found stern resistance from Courtney in the final corners.
Rounding out the top 10 were Percat, Whincup, Mostert, Kelly, and Andre Heimgartner (#7 Ned Mustang).
In the teams’ championship, DJR Team Penske’s margin over Triple Eight Race Engineering has been snipped to 78.
The final race of the weekend is scheduled for a start at 14:20 local time/14:50 AEST.
Results: Race 29, OTR SuperSprint The Bend
|1||17||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Scott McLaughlin||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:29.9798|
|2||99||Penrite Racing||Anton De Pasquale||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:31.1075|
|3||6||Monster Energy Racing||Cameron Waters||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:31.7496|
|4||44||Boost Mobile Racing||James Courtney||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:32.7967|
|5||97||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Shane van Gisbergen||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:33.1238|
|6||8||R&J Batteries||Nick Percat||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:33.6342|
|7||88||Red Bull Holden Racing Team||Jamie Whincup||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:33.9666|
|8||25||Mobil 1 Appliances Online||Chaz Mostert||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:34.5516|
|9||15||Castrol Racing||Rick Kelly||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:35.6862|
|10||7||NED Whisky Racing||Andre Heimgartner||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:38.9355|
|11||14||TRG Transport||Todd Hazelwood||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:39.7839|
|12||18||IRWIN Racing||Mark Winterbottom||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:40.3906|
|13||55||Supercheap Auto Racing||Jack Le Brocq||Ford Mustang GT||32||45:41.3958|
|14||3||Team CoolDrive||Macauley Jones||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:42.2258|
|15||22||Team SYDNEY||Chris Pither||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:42.6824|
|16||34||UNIT Racing||Jake Kostecki||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:45.1244|
|17||4||SCT Motor Sports||Jack Smith||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:49.9402|
|18||2||Mobil 1 TM Middy’s Racing||Bryce Fullwood||Holden Commodore ZB||32||45:55.9730|
|19||20||DEWALT Racing||Scott Pye||Holden Commodore ZB||32||47:14.4995|
|NC||12||Shell V-Power Racing Team||Fabian Coulthard||Ford Mustang GT||21||27:51.2981|
|NC||9||Penrite Racing||David Reynolds||Holden Commodore ZB||21||28:09.8250|
|NC||35||Yellow Cover Racing||Garry Jacobson||Holden Commodore ZB||4||5:40.2169|
|NC||5||Truck Assist Racing||Lee Holdsworth||Ford Mustang GT||2||3:11.1131|
|4||Shane van Gisbergen||1721|
|8||Anton De Pasquale||1421|
|15||Jack Le Brocq||1238|