Deep in the heart of Texas, at a new venue for the sport, the drivers of the IndyCar Series put on a fantastic weekend at the state-of-the-art Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.
With great anticipation the 2019 Supercars championship finally commenced on the weekend, and the traditional curtain-raising Adelaide 500 didn’t fail to deliver.
The performance questions around the long-awaited debut of the Ford Mustang were finally put to rest, with a stellar start to the season for defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin.
Mustang and much more dominated the opening weekend in Adelaide, so here are the talking points from the first Supercars round of 2019.
Mustang’s dream debut
Despite the limited time to develop and build the Mustang completely from scratch to Supercars control specifications, it was a dream debut for Ford’s global flagship sportscar in the Australian touring car championship.
Fabian Coulthard snatched pole position in Race 1’s top-ten shootout for the Mustang’s first P1 start, but it was defending series champion Scott McLaughlin who romped away for the first victory of the season.
The reigning champion backed up his Saturday victory with a perfect Sunday result, winning the second of the 250-kilometre race from pole for a clean sweep in the Shell V-Power Mustang.
Mistakes masked the true performance of the rest of the Mustang runners in the opening race, with Coulthard and Chaz Mostert’s finishing positions not indicative of their respective speed.
A cool suit problem for Cam Waters ruined his Saturday race – the Monster Energy Mustang was inside the top six before the team pulled him in on safety grounds during the extremely hot race.
Waters redeemed his car on Sunday when the 24-year-old took his first podium since Pukekohe in 2017. It was also the first for Tickford aboard the new car.
Will Davison scored his best finish since his 2016 Bathurst 1000 win for Tekno and the best result for 23Red Racing with fourth to be the best of the Tickford stable in his customer car.
McLaughlin ace start to title defence
Just as the Mustang got away to a dream start as the Ford Supercar, so too did McLaughlin’s title defence begin in emphatic fashion, with a 12-second victory in the opening race of the weekend.
Electing not to run the champion’s No. 1 to instead stay true to the legendary No. 17, McLaughlin made an electric start from third on the grid to round up both front-row cars heading into the difficult Senna chicane.
From there it was a typical race of dominance from the 25-year-old, who, regardless of a brand-new car and chassis, drove in the same composed way he won the 2018 championship.
Race 2 saw McLaughlin notch up a double century of Supercars races for which he claimed his first pole position at the Adelaide Parklands circuit before surviving a challenge from Shane van Gisbergen in the early part of the 78-lap race to make it back-to-back victories.
Having never previously won or held a pole position in Adelaide, McLaughlin started his maiden title defence in the most emphatic way possible. Together with the new Mustang he sent a warning shot across the bows of the rest of field.
Coulthard’s costly mistakes
There’s no driver under more pressure to perform in 2019 than Fabian Coulthard at DJR Team Penske. His future is very much on the line.
Having won only a single race in 2018 and having not been a championship contender, starting 2019 by claiming the first pole position of the season was the best possible statement from the Kiwi.
However, a fumble off the line at the start of Race 1 had him penalised for a jump start, which essentially spoilt what could have been a strong opening race for Coulthard.
Hilariously, both he and fellow front-row starter Jamie Whincup blamed each other for the faux pas – though with his future at the Shell V-Power team on the line there’s no room for missed opportunities or mistakes.
Coulthard again made it into the shootout for Race 2, but he was penalised for a pit lane team infringement and relegated from third to tenth from. He was hit with another penalty during the race and finished 20th as a result.
All street circuits tend to be unforgiving by nature, but for Supercars drivers there is nothing more gruelling than having their first races of a new season at the demanding Adelaide street track.
Sweltering conditions challenged all up and down pit lane throughout the weekend, as did the fearsome track layout, which boasts the fast right-hander at Turn 8 and its concrete barrier on the left side.
As stated above, Waters in the Tickford Mustang endured a tough first race with a cool suit failure, and the fact that he had qualified so high up the order and was racing competitively made it a bitter pill to swallow for the Ford driver.
Tickford teammate Lee Holdsworth found himself in the wall at Turn 7 on his own, which subsequently led to Scott Pye also running into the rear of the Bottle-O Mustang, compromising both their opening races.
After topping the opening practice session on Thursday, Anton de Pasquale left his signature on the Turn 8 wall in the Penrite Commodore, which would have bruised the youngster’s confidence going into the rest of the weekend, such is the daunting nature of that corner.
The biggest of incidents all weekend, though, was that involving rookie Macauley Jones, who lost his front brakes going into the hairpin at Turn 9 during the final practice session on Saturday.
The driver was fortunately unharmed despite going straight into the wall, but it left the Brad Jones Racing Team with a lengthy repair to the Cooldrive Commodore, which couldn’t race on Saturday and wasn’t fully repaired until 4am on Sunday.
Pit lane chaos and Mostert’s missed opportunities
As if Tickford’s weekend couldn’t get any worse after the Race 1 results for Waters and Holdsworth, there was chaos in pit lane on lap 28 of the second race when the field was sent into a frenzy with a safety car intervention.
Jack Le Brocq’s Tekno Commodore came to a halt on track, triggering the safety car and forcing nearly the entire field into the pits for a flurry of fuel stops and tyre changes.
Mostert and his Supercheap Auto crew would have been hoping to jump Shane van Gisbergen during this second stop, but a clumsy release from his Tickford mechanics saw the No. 55 car T-boned by Rick Kelly’s Nissan Altima.
Kelly didn’t aid the issue by not backing off, which caused a temporary pit lane blockage and an end to Mostert’s unfulfilled weekend in Adelaide following the 26-year-old’s own mistake during the top-ten shootout.
Adding salt to the wounds was a subsequent pit lane penalty after Mostert was seen giving Kelly’s Castrol Altima a bump or two as the former was forced to park his car in the garage.
As is the case for Coulthard, 2019 is a key year for Mostert, with his future very much a topic of discussion. However, unlike the Kiwi, the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner is hot property and could be a contender for Coulthard’s seat at DJR Team Penske or even further opportunities in GT racing with BMW – if Tickford continues not executing those one per centers.