Looking at the challenges posed by the departure of Holden and the search for marketplace relevance.
From the gruelling streets of Adelaide to the high-speed international stage of Albert Park, the Supercars Championship turned it up once again as Formula One’s under card at the Australian Grand Prix.
This is the second year that the Melbourne 400 has had championship points available across the four races over the Grand Prix weekend, giving the event more of an impact on the championship overall.
Between celebrating the thousandth touring car race in Australia and the continual dominance of the Ford Mustang, here is what got everyone talking at the Melbourne 400.
1000th ATCC Race
What an incredible history the Australian Touring Car Championship has had since its first race for points in 1960, and what a sight it was to have the thousandth race contested on the international stage ahead of the Australian Grand Prix.
Even though Race 4 of the 2019 championship that celebrated the millennium was a short 30-minute sprint race, it still delivered a cracking contest and demonstrated why the Aussie Supercars are still the best touring cars in the world.
Scott McLaughlin continued his winning ways in the 13-lap milestone race, winning from pole over the Tickford duo of Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters and completing the second Mustang lock-out of the podium for the weekend.
A poor start for Mostert saw him drop places to Jamie Whincup and Tickford teammate Waters, but he didn’t waste time wrestling those positions back during the 30-minute sprint.
Whincup was the highest finishing Holden in fourth, amidst the mighty Mustang which again had five cars inside the top six. The next best Commodore was David Reynolds in the Penrite car, behind Fabian Coulthard and Will Davison.
Tim Slade, James Courtney and Shane van Gisbergen rounded out the top ten for Race 4, with Courtney making up four positions to claim ninth in front of the Walkinshaw Andretti United triumvirate of bosses, who converged at a Supercars event for first time since the partnership was born.
Mostert wins the Larry Perkins Trophy
Missed opportunities was the line on Tickford’s lead driver following the Adelaide 500, however at the Melbourne 400 the Supercheap Auto racer made amends with a solid display – starting with his Race 3 fightback from 22nd on the grid to ultimately win the Larry Perkins trophy.
Mostert had a dogged qualifying for the opening 25-lap race of the weekend, but with the might of his Ford Mustang was able to get as high as thirteenth by Lap 8.
With a bit of strategic aid, he was able to race back to fifth in what was a stellar drive.
More overtaking was the story of Race 4 too, with a poor start setting him back from his front-row grid position. But he was rewarded with a place on the podium at the end.
Race 5’s victory from seventh on the grid, though, would have been the sweetest for the Ford driver, vindicating the strong pace shown by the No.55 car so far in the season.
Having pole position for the final race of the weekend, Mostert got off to a poor start and dropped to third. He was quick to hustle back one position lost to Whincup and got the second place finish he needed to win the round overall.
Scoring the most points across the Melbourne 400 has also bolstered Mostert into third in the driver’s standings, only a mere 63 points behind championship leader McLaughlin, who retains his position despite the Race 5 DNF.
Mustang continues to dominate
If the results from Adelaide weren’t concerning enough to the rest of the Supercars competition, then the stunning form of the Ford Mustang at Albert Park would have everyone quivering in their boots.
Scott McLaughlin brought up his 50th career pole position and by doing so, also claimed three of the four poles for the weekend’s races – including both for the 25-lappers. Chaz Mostert took his and Tickford’s first of the season for Race 6.
Race 3 was controlled by McLaughlin, who led his Shell V-Power teammate in Fabian Coulthard home to the chequered flag.
The podium was completed by Cameron Waters, who made his second trip to the rostrum in as many races, while the top five positions were locked out by Mustangs.
As already stated above, Race 4 saw another clean sweep of the podium by Mustangs, as well as five of the top six positions being filled by the unstoppable pony.
Though that streak was broken in the following race, with Whincup and Tim Slade for Brad Jones Racing bagging podiums.
McLaughlin bounced back in Race 6 to take his third win of the weekend and fifth of the season, giving the Mustang an unbeaten record so far in 2019 for both wins and pole positions.
McLaughlin and Waters’ out-lap blue
In a bizarre incident that occurred before the start of Race 5, championship leader McLaughlin and Waters ended up failing to be classified as finishers.
Both drivers were set to occupy the front row of the grid during that race, however on the out-lap from the pits both made contact at Turn 5, as Waters’ left-front hit the right-rear of McLaughlin’s Mustang.
Spectacularly, it left the front-row of the grid empty for the start of the second 25-lapper and left both the drivers without any points and there was 100 points on offer.
Neither driver accepted responsibility for the incident, however they were seen during the race behind the Supercars paddock shaking hands. It was a matter that the stewards were also looking into.
Race 5 saw several incidents throughout, with Shane van Gisbergen’s rotten weekend having been made worse by a tyre failure in the latter part of the race. That on top of a rare engine failure in Race 3 has meant that the Kiwi’s points tally has been lean this weekend.
Lee Holdsworth and Richie Stanaway also came to blows, following repeated contact from the GRM driver on Holdsworth’s Bottle-O Mustang throughout the 25-lapper.
Holdsworth ended up finishing 12th and labelled Stanaway an “imbecile”, highlighting that the Kiwi is a repeat offender and has “got rocks in his head”.
The former Aston Martin GT racer since has copped a $10,000 fine for his antics and was disqualified from the Race 5 results.
‘The unfair advantage’
As well as being the title of a book written by 1972 Indy 500 winner Mark Donohue for Team Penske, “the unfair advantage” is what Triple Eight boss Roland Dane was quoted saying after the Adelaide 500 regarding his rival’s new car.
DJR Team Penske and the Ford Mustang romped away with both pole positions and race wins in Adelaide by a sizable margin and it left the Holden juggernauts scratching their heads – and in Dane’s case, questioning aspects of Ford’s new weapon.
So fickle is the competition in Supercars that it seems conveniently forgotten that this time 12 months ago, the Ford teams were protesting the legality of Holden’s new ZB Commodore and its use of composite panels.
The reality is that given the introduction of new body shapes into Supercars, with the hatchback style of the ZB Commodore and two-door coupe styling of the Mustang, the control chassis upon which these shapes need to be fitted upon have become obsolete.
Originally, it was designed to fit the classic four-door sedan, which the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodores of old traditionally were.
The introduction of the Gen2 regulations in 2017 did allow for these different body shapes to enter the sport – however perhaps oversaw how the manufacturers would be going about to make their cars fit the control chassis.
The discussion now about introducing a change to the control chassis has come up and ideally the time frame to see a new chassis brought in would be 2021.
Until then, the ‘unfair advantage’ statement will likely be tossed around a lot – unless of course Holden can engineer themselves ahead again.
What will happen after the Grand Prix weekend will be a centre of gravity test between 10 of the cars to determine whether the Mustang has an advantage in terms of weight and the heavier exhaust – which was previously run on the Falcon FG-X – is the cause.
Watch this space.