Standouts, Shockers, Surprises: SMP1

Supercars resumed its season at Sydney Motorsport Park. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

The return of the Repco Supercars Championship brought to an end a 104-day drought between races for Australia’s top touring cars.

The resumption of racing at Sydney Motorsport Park brought with it plenty of storylines.

In this edition of Standouts, Shockers, Surprises, we look at all the big talking points from the first of four events in Sydney.

STANDOUTS

Anton De Pasquale topped all but one session at Sydney Motorsport Park. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

De Pasquale dominance

After the turbulent season that Anton De Pasquale had had before the three-month layoff, few could have predicted such dominance upon the season’s resumption.

If not for a botched start in Race 21 – and the tyre trauma that followed – the Dick Johnson Racing pilot might have swept the entire weekend.

Such was his performance, the nonchalant Queenslander drew comparisons to three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin which he quickly shrugged off.

Qualifying for Race 20 was where De Pasquale really stood out, putting half a second on the field in the Top 10 Shootout.

Triple Eight Race Engineering, who have by and large been the dominant force in 2021, showed little sign of being able to match De Pasquale’s pace, and, if anything, it was Erebus Motorsport who looked likely to break the Dick Johnson Racing driver’s stranglehold on the weekend.

Will Brown (middle) with Brodie Kostecki (right). Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Erebus rookies to the fore

There’s been plenty said of Erebus Motorsport and its rookie duo Will Brown and Brodie Kostecki in 2021.

A podium for Kostecki at Sandown and several top five finishes for Brown have put them inside the top 10 of the drivers’ championship.

Inconsistency has dogged them at times but the pair really hit their stride at Sydney Motorsport Park.

With a front-row start for Brown in Race 20, the team threw the kitchen sink at the 32-lapper to get the 23-year-old his first championship race win.

A stray wheel nut would ultimately undo Brown’s hard work, the youngster eventually finishing fifth while Kostecki went on to claim third.

Brown would get his redemption in the last of three races, claiming second to De Pasquale in a thrilling drive.

When will a win come? Don’t rule out the possibility of a breakthrough this year, or even this month.

Neil Crompton (middle). Picture: Dirk Klynsmith

Crompton’s comeback

Okay, Neil Crompton has had a comeback of sorts in the Eseries, but this was the comeback we’ve all been waiting for.

There’s something very wholesome about the Supercars broadcast line-up led by Jessica Yates endlessly wrangling the brat pack of Crompton, Mark Skaife, and Mark Larkham.

Crompton was in fine form too; he and Skaife were back to their best, the pair doing their best to hold back their laughter several times over.

Welcome back, Crompo.

SHOCKERS

Cameron Waters (left) and James Courtney. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Turmoil at Tickford

Where was Tickford Racing on the weekend?

After the team’s big bounce-back between rounds at Townsville that saw Waters go from being a lap down one weekend to winning twice the next, their newfound form abandoned them across the board in Sydney.

Although the three entries in Waters, James Courtney, and Jack Le Brocq improved over the course of the weekend, their collective results were lacklustre.

Waters’ finishes of 13th, 13th, and sixth saw him slip from third to fifth in the drivers’ championship. Meanwhile, Courtney was 22nd, 18th, and 12th whilst the outgoing Brocq could only muster 21st, 14th, and eighth.

Let’s hope for a Townsville-esque comeback for the second Sydney event.

Sydney Motorsport Park at dusk. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

The crowd

You’d be hard-pressed to think Sydney Motorsport Park reached its 10,000 capacity crowd at the weekend.

New South Wales has been starved of sport for months, the Sydney SuperNight marking the first major sporting event in the region since lockdown restrictions were lifted.

And yet, Eastern Creek looked barren in part.

There’s no doubt a lot of factors were at play like the pandemic, though the saturation of events – four in total – stands out as doing little to help the cause.

Will Davison claimed second in Race 21. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

Davison’s shocking luck

When will Davo catch a break?

Watching Will Davison at the end of Race 21 on the verge of tears will be one of the more heartbreaking moments of 2021.

After everything he endured in 2020, it felt like a win was just reward for his toil. However, it wasn’t to be as his Ford Mustang struck electrical gremlins while leading.

In the end, Shane van Gisbergen would get the better of him, passing Davison in the pit lane while his team reset his car.

Had Davison won, it would’ve broken a five-year dry spell stemming back to the 2016 Bathurst 1000.

SURPRISES

Anton De Pasquale. Picture: Mark Horsburgh

DJR DSQ

The usually impeccable Dick Johnson Racing has been clumsy at times in 2021, whether that’s with its drivers or otherwise.

Having won three of the past four Supercars teams’ championships, it’s been hard to fault the Stapylton squad.

What’s to blame? It’s hard to pinpoint. By and large, the team has remained unchanged outside of its driver line-up in 2021. So it came as a surprise on the weekend when Anton De Pasquale was disqualified for a tyre mix-up through no fault of his own.

You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time Dick Johnson Racing incurred a disqualification.

Fireworks greeted De Pasquale at the chequered flag in Race 20

Show lacked show

Supercars’ unrivalled return to TV screens felt a lot like any other round of the championship, just that it was at night.

Admittedly, the first Sydney SuperNight wasn’t the Sydney SuperNight and Supercars is probably saving its gunpowder until the last of four.

However, and it’s a big however, Supercars had nothing to rival it; no domestic sporting fixtures, nor international motorsports clashes. This was the event to make a song and dance.

Yes, the one and only night closed with some fireworks and a few flashy lights, but where were the NASCAR-style introductions? The themed lights we’d been promised? This was Supercars’ return after three months and it felt like standard-issue Supercars.

The V8 SuperUtes field on the run down to Turn 2

V8 SuperUtes

For all the flack that the V8 SuperUte Series has had to endure through its various guises over its lifespan, the series was actually a pretty good show at SMP.

Between the open-top sports, Toyota 86s, and sports sedans, the V8 SuperUtes provided some good old-fashioned biff and barge.

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