Opening laps don’t get more chaotic than this!
There was plenty of hype leading into the final round of the 2018 Supercars championship, with the title on the line between the two heavyweights in DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight.
Their respective drivers; Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen have been the benchmarks all season long and had come to the streets of Newcastle with a 14-point differential in the standings.
Chaos, controversy and all-round classic racing is what dominated the headlines at the Newcastle 500 this weekend and here are the key talking points for the championship deciding event.
Scott McLaughlin wins the championship
After the disappointment of seeing his title bid in ruins at the very same venue, there was no mistakes from Scott McLaughlin this time in Newcastle with the 25-year old claiming his maiden Supercars championship.
Nine wins from 12 pole positions in 2018 is only a fragment of how McLaughlin has won this championship, with his consistency on the days they couldn’t win a testament to his newfound maturity and composure.
Settling for second in Race 31, behind a rampaging David Reynolds too, showed that Scott’s eyes were firmly on the big prize instead of the individual race win.
Victory in Supercars also wraps up a significant year of racing for the Penske organisation also, having claimed the NASCAR title last week with Joey Logano and of course Will Power’s Indy 500 success.
Van Gisbergen’s pit-lane penalty controversy
It was an emphatic drive on Saturday for Van Gisbergen, taking the lead of the race on the final lap from McLaughlin who ran out of the fuel, but unfortunately the victory was stripped as part of a post-race investigation.
The equivalent of a drive-through penalty was awarded to the Red Bull racer, after the stewards concluded that there was a refuelling breach during the Kiwi’s third and final pit-stop in Race 30.
As the car was dropped, the fuel hose remained connected, which for safety reasons is a negligible act and thus the penalty being applied.
Triple Eight in their argument used the case of Anton De Pasquale’s similar breach at the Adelaide 500, which only resulted in a financial penalty and as expected were up in arms about the impact this loss of points going into the Sunday race.
25-seconds was added to Van Gisbergen’s time, dropping him to fifth and handed the win back to McLaughlin – along with a 53-point gap heading into the championship deciding Race 31.
Starting third on Sunday, it was a troublesome race for Van Gisbergen and the scenes of his Commodore’s front mudguards falling off towards the end of the race, summed up the Kiwi’s title bid falling apart.
Farewell Craig Lowndes
Sharing the headlines with the championship battle this weekend, was the impending retirement of the much-loved Craig Lowndes, who suited up for the final time as a full-time Supercars driver.
The hope was for a fitting farewell for the three-time series champion and seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner, however that was made a lot more difficult amongst the pit-lane chaos during Race 30.
Lowndes had to hop over the stationary Commodore of Scott Pye, who was parked in the fast-lane when the Safety Car appearance had forced the field to take their second round of stops.
Pye was the victim of double-stacking in the Walkinshaw Andretti United camp, however due to the congested pit-lane, had little room to deal with and then had a furious Lowndes jump over him and sustain what would be race ending damage.
Missing out on the Top-Ten Shootout for Race 31, didn’t offer Lowndes much for the race having been down in the midfield and only eleventh was yielded for the veteran in what was his final race.
Farewell Nissan and the Falcon
Newcastle also marked the final races for Nissan as a manufacturer in the Supercars championship, as it made the decision earlier in the year not to renew its presence for 2019.
The Kellys will continue to run their four-car operation with the Nissan Altima next season, though without the manufacturer support they’ve had from the Japanese marque for the past six years.
There were some encouraging results this year from the Altima, chiefly the emotional victory back at Winton for Rick Kelly and even in Newcastle the good form shown by Andre Heimgartner and Simona De Silvestro. However, ultimately this latest tenure for Nissan has been somewhat disappointing.
More significantly this weekend, marked the final event for the legendary Ford Falcon which has been a mainstay of the Australian touring car championship for decades.
To be replaced by the Mustang in 2019, the Falcon FG X in 2018 was saluted with 11 race wins and 13 pole positions between DJR Team Penske and Tickford Racing, and the cherry on top of that was the driver’s championship delivered by Scott McLaughlin.
Coulthard’s dismal weekend
With elation on one side of the Shell V-Power Racing garage, there wouldn’t have been too many smiles in Fabian Coulthard’s camp, with a torrid weekend capping off what has been an under-par season for the Kiwi.
There were spectacular scenes on Saturday with Coulthard becoming unstuck at the tyre barrier at Turn 1, having out-braked himself and then had his rear-wing ripped off by Nick Percat who was first on scene.
Percat’s entire drivers side door was torn off as a result and then to add more salt in the wound for Coulthard, he had the outgoing Tim Blanchard drill him from behind as well.
The team made a miraculous recovery to have the car turned around for Race 31, however during qualifying it was discovered that there was an issue with the steering still. Fighting with Jamie Whincup again then, saw the Kiwi turned around with damage again being sustained to the rear.
Having run a little bit, being lapped by the leaders, the decision was ultimately made to bring the car into the garage before the end of the race, ending what has been quite a dismal weekend.