The Supercars championship has escaped the winter and headed north for its annual trip to the Top End, where history was made at Hidden Valley with the first-ever winner of the Darwin Triple Crown trophy.
From this unique feat being achieved to the chaos that ensued across the weekend, here are the talking points from another edition of the Darwin Triple Crown.
McLaughlin wins the Triple Crown
It’s a prize that has eluded the likes of Craig Lowndes and even seven-time Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, but 13 years after its inception the Darwin Triple Crown has finally been won, and by Scott McLaughlin.
The 26-year-old was peerless all weekend, winning both races and claiming pole position in the top-ten shootout on Sunday to complete the elusive Triple Crown at Hidden Valley.
McLaughlin was threatened during both races at the start, with the long run into Turn 1 allowing the competition to close and get alongside.
During the Saturday leg the Kiwi went three abreast into the first corner with the Erebus duo David Reynolds and Anton de Pasquale, though he came out ahead to maintain his lead before breaking away from the chasing pack.
A similar story in Sunday’s 70-lapper, when Reynolds threatened the Shell V-Power Mustang into the first corner, but again McLaughlin couldn’t be stopped from breaking free of the field and driving off into the distance.
“I’m just lucky. I’m 26, just living the dream driving race cars and I’m lucky I drive a fast one,” McLaughlin said after the Race 16 victory. “I’ve got a great car, great team, the pit-stops were unreal.”
With a 319-point lead over teammate Fabian Coulthard, who placed third in Race 16, McLaughlin’s name is already being discussed in the same vein as the likes of Whincup, Lowndes and Mark Skaife when they had their respective dominant eras in the sport.
McLaughlin is four wins away from equalling Lowndes’s longstanding record of most wins tallied in a single season. Back in 1996 the eventual seven-time Bathurst 1000 winner won 16 races en route to his maiden title, a record that hasn’t been equalled.
Incident-laden Race 15
Race control was kept busy throughout the opening leg of the Darwin Triple Crown with incidents aplenty up and down the field throughout the 42-lap race.
The opening lap saw chaos towards the rear of the field, with Macauley Jones sent off the track in a three-way clash between the Brad Jones Racer, Jack Le Brocq and James Golding.
No penalty was applied in this instance, with both Le Brocq and Golding failing to be classified, while Jones finished dead last and eight laps off the lead.
On the following lap Jones’s teammate, Tim Slade, was escorted off the track and into the wall by Rick Kelly, who admitted fault to the incident and was subsequently penalised with a drive through the pits.
Not long after there were nine cars all grouped up coming out of the final corner, which had incident written all over it, and indeed an incident is what happened. There was bizarre contact between Andre Heimgartner and Mark Winterbottom, which saw the Irwin Commodore up on three wheels before the pack fanned out across the pit straight.
Todd Hazelwood led this pack heading into Turn 1 but braked very deep and was sent off the road by Simona de Silvestro’s Nissan. The Kelly Racing squad was hit with another penalty, the Swiss driver having 15 seconds added to her time post-race.
Heimgartner also copped a 15-second penalty for an infringement during a safety car restart, making matters worse for the four-car Nissan team.
Finally, an unsafe release for the 23Red Racing team saw an opportunity for Will Davison to finish on the podium snatched away when he was penalised 15 seconds for colliding with David Reynolds in the pit lane.
BJR’s costly weekend
As if Race 15 wasn’t bad enough for the Brad Jones Racing stable, which was running four cars this weekend with the wildcard entry of Jack Smith, Race 16 qualifying saw two of their drivers bins their cars in succession.
Having survived the incident on Saturday with Le Brocq and Golding, Macauley Jones crashed out of qualifying on Sunday going into the tyre wall at Turn 11. He joined teammate Nick Percat, who only moments before had also found the wall at the same corner.
A long brake pedal was to blame for Percat, but Jones was at a loss to understand what caused him to spin at Turn 11 and end up in the tyre wall.
Both cars were miraculously repaired ahead of the 70-lap race and from the rear of the field Percat made his way up to 15th. Jones finished a lap down in 22nd in a forgettable weekend for the rookie.
The Albury-based team has had a rocky start to the 2019 season, with only one podium to date, coming back at the Melbourne 400 by Slade. In terms of the team’s championship position, they’re sitting sixth overall as the third-best Holden team, crucially ahead of Walkinshaw.
Reynolds and Erebus building momentum
It was a slow start to a season in which they were dubbed championship dark horses, but David Reynolds and Erebus Motorsport are at last building momentum to fight at the front of the field.
A podium at the previous round at Winton provided encouragement for the Penrite squad, though the results at Darwin vindicate their current position as being the best Holden team in the competition.
Reynolds bagged a pair of podiums, including a season-best result of second during the second of the two races at Hidden Valley, a circuit around which he normally does well.
Teammate De Pasquale also enjoyed strong qualifying sessions, with another appearance in the top-ten shootout, but he failed to capitalise during the race, recording 11th and eighth-place finishes respectively.
As far as Reynolds’s championship is concerned, he firms up in third place with a 459-point deficit to McLaughlin, though he is only 140 points adrift of Coulthard in second place as Erebus continue finding form.
Commodore aero tweaks
All 15 Holden Commodores in the field underwent aero tweaks ahead of the Darwin Triple Crown in a bid to further achieve parity across the Supercars field.
Minimal changes to the undertray were undertaken, with the impact of the tweaks yet fully unknown. This does follow a series of adjustments made by Supercars earlier in the season to the dominant Ford Mustang to equalise its aero with the ZB Commodore and Nissan Altima.
Regardless of these changes, the Holden teams were left in the wake of the mighty Mustangs during the weekend in Darwin. Qualifying was dominated by Scott McLaughlin, as were both races.
The best of the Holdens across the weekend was Reynolds for Erebus, while the factory Red Bull Holden Racing Team had a best finish of fifth in both races thanks to some good strategy and solid driving from Jamie Whincup.
It was another trying weekend for the Red Bull squad, with both Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen failing to make the top-ten shootout ahead of Race 16, but their stronger race pace meant that they could work their way up the field.
In terms of the championship, both Van Gisbergen and Whincup took a hit with 547 and 556-point deficits respectively to McLaughlin at the top. In the teams standings Red Bull are still second overall but trail DJR Team Penske by 814-points.