It’s been a promising start to the 2018 Supercars championship and after a short layoff, the title battle will resume in Australia’s Top End, as the middle third of the season commences.
A return to the Hidden Valley circuit in Darwin sees 2017 runner up Scott McLaughlin in control of the standings, with a 131-point lead over Shane van Gisbergen. 364-points covers the top five contenders, with reigning series champ in Jamie Whincup occupying that fifth spot.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team burst out of the blocks at the season opening Adelaide 500, equipped with the new ZB Commodore machinery and swept the weekend. Such was the dominance of the new Holden chassis, that of the first eight races their cars had won seven.
Whincup and Van Gisbergen had two wins apiece by the end of the Tasmanian SuperSprint and the momentum was looking in the favour of Triple Eight. That was until McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske went on an incredible run from Phillip Island, to win four consecutive races.
The argument over parity and whether the Holdens had an unfair advantage with their increased number of composite panels over their competitors, had been quashed in those rounds – as the DJR Ford asserted itself over the field.
Momentum had fallen away from David Reynolds and the Erebus squad, who emerged in 2018 has ‘dark horses’ for the championship, following an underwhelming weekend at Winton. Still in that crucial top five, Reynolds must seek more wins to add to his sole victory at the Australian Grand Prix.
Conversely, Fabian Coulthard lacked momentum prior to his first win of the season at Race 14 in Winton, while his teammate McLaughlin romped away at the front. The Kiwi might be seventh in the standings with a 408-point deficit, but with that win under his belt – he is a threat to the Holdens on DJR Team Penske’s behalf.
The upcoming races in Darwin, Townsville, Ipswich and then the much hyped about night race at Sydney Motorsport Park are crucial in separating the genuine title contenders from the pretenders. This was the bulk of races in 2017, which saw the Red Bull Holdens send a reminder to DJR Team Penske that they were in this championship hunt too.
Having at most a 300-point spread across the top five heading into the next phase of the season, which is the prized Enduro Cup will be the emphasis of keeping title hopes alive for those in contention.
As well as Reynolds having the need to add to his tally of wins, the same can be emphasised about Craig Lowndes, who broke his winless drought in Tasmania and since has emerged into the top five of the championship.
In the past, this middle portion of the season is where the likes of Lowndes and Whincup have put the hammer down and it will be no different in 2018, as the experienced duo would look to feed off their past success at these venues.
At this stage of the season, it is clear off the form shown in the first third, that
Tickford aren’t in immediate contention for the ultimate silverware at the end of the season. As disappointing as that is, having four solid drivers not in the picture – it is a testament to their lack of car speed and inability to maximise the Dunlop tyres in 2018.
However, the likes of Tickford and Walkinshaw can still be movers and shakers in this title battle, as have Nissan been so far with their ground-breaking win in Winton – following the announcement that the manufacturer will withdraw its support from the category at season’s end.
Now that everyone’s had the chance to pause and refresh themselves following a tense start to the season, the intensity is set to continue starting in Darwin this weekend. Who can crucially find the ascendency and importantly too, who will finds themselves caught out?