McLaughlin expecting 2020-style DJR fightback at SMP

Scott McLaughlin at Sydney Motorsport Park in June 2020

Scott McLaughlin expects that, for a second year straight, Dick Johnson Racing will “come out swinging” when the Repco Supercars Championship resumes at Sydney Motorsport Park after a long break.

The Bunnings Trade Sydney SuperNight will be held just over a fortnight from now, around three-and-half months after Supercars last raced, when two events unfolded in Townsville in July.

In a sense, it is history repeating, given the 2020 season resumed at ‘Eastern Creek’ in late-June after the Australian Grand Prix was abandoned on the Friday morning in mid-March.

Triple Eight Race Engineering grabbed both poles which were decided at Albert Park, making for a perfect four from four in qualifying to that point of the campaign, after Jamie Whincup won Race 1 in Adelaide and Shane van Gisbergen fought hard for victory in Race 2 before being undone by twin mishaps.

The next time the field raced, in Sydney, McLaughlin drove his Shell V-Power Mustang to two wins and a third place when a skinny soft tyre allocation meant that a sweep was difficult to pull off.

That weekend was the start of a run of form which saw the man in Car #17 unofficially seal a third straight drivers’ championship with an event to spare, before DJR wrapped up the teams’ crown at Bathurst.

Titles are a less realistic proposition at this point of 2021 than they were when the season restarted last year, given DJR incumbents Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale are fifth and sixth in the championship at 421 and 680 points away from championship leader van Gisbergen, respectively, with only five events to make up the deficit.

However, McLaughlin is anticipating a similar surge in performance this month to that which he and Fabian Coulthard showed in June 2020.

“I think in some ways, [given] how fast Anton and Will have been this year, I think they’re almost punching above their weight right now,” he said of the all-changed DJR driver line-up for 2021.

“I think they’re doing a great job.

“And I know how Ludo [Lacroix, De Pasquale’s engineer] works, I know how Richard [Harris, Davison’s engineer] works; they’ll be pushing them very hard.

“Ludo’ll want more, and I’m sure over this break, it hasn’t just been a break where they’ve done nothing; I’m sure that the team has worked their absolute butts off, like most of them [rival teams].

“But, I know that [June 2020 SMP event] was a big change in us.

“We had three months or so to think about what we were doing with our cars and where we were going to start when we went back to SMP last year, and we came out swinging.

“I fully expect DJR to come out really strong.”

Anton De Pasquale wins for Dick Johnson Racing at The Bend

DJR has nevertheless hardly gone emptyhanded through the 2021 season to date.

De Pasquale boasts four poles and one win, although he could have easily had another victory had an engine problem not cost him an early lead in another race at The Bend.

Davison has two poles of his own, both at Hidden Valley, and went on to finish second from each of them.

McLaughlin thinks the latter is not far away from a first win in his second stint at DJR, and that the team will be more potent at the Repco Bathurst 1000 than it was in last year’s Great Race, which Triple Eight took out courtesy of van Gisbergen/Garth Tander.

“I think I said at the start of the year, it was going to be tough, learning new engineers and a new car,” said the 2019 Bathurst 1000 winner.

“The way we do things in terms of DJR is a lot different to what Anton’s been used to at Erebus and Will’s been used to at Tickford.

“So, I think he’s [Davison] been fantastic, I think he’s been solid, he’s just typical Will, he’s just always there.

“I think if things go his way at certain parts during the year, I think there’s a couple wins there on the blocks for sure.

“At SMP, we had strong cars there, I think they’ll be really good, but so have Triple Eight, which will be tough for them all.

“But, they’ve got four weekends there to make it work. I genuinely think the team can get some really strong results, and I certainly expect they’ll win more than most people think. I think they’re going to be really strong.

“And then Bathurst, obviously, I think they’ve got on top of the cars better than we had it last year, and I think they’ll be stronger again.

“And as we know, anything can happen there.”

McLaughlin will not be part of DJR’s 2021 Bathurst 1000 campaign due to logistical difficulties in moving between the United States and Australia, meaning Alex Davison will partner brother Will in Car #17, with Tony D’Alberto serving as co-driver to De Pasquale.

That event takes place on November 30-December 5, while the season resumes in Sydney on October 29-31.

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