They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. We had to wait an extra week for the Darwin Triple Crown, and the first race of the weekend was certainly one to be fond of.
Supercars’ adventure in the northern regions of Australia continued with the battle on the streets of Far North Queensland at the Townsville 400.
Milestones, infernos, driver futures and a bit of wet weather shaped a unique weekend in Townsville and here are the talking points from a crazy Supercars race meeting.
Wet’n’Wild Race 18
There was a rain-affected affair for the first time in the history of Supercars racing in Townsville, which produced an unprecedented outcome and plenty of chaos.
The start saw a clash between championship leader and Saturday winner Scott McLaughlin and Saturday pole-sitter David Reynolds, with the latter having come worse off with bent steering.
Cameron Waters, who started from pole, led early in the greasy conditions from 400th race-starter Fabian Coulthard and behind was Todd Hazelwood along with Shane van Gisbergen and a fast-starting Jamie Whincup before he crashed out at Turn 6.
Anton de Pasquale in the sister Erebus car was in contention for a career best result, though thanks to superior strategy from Triple Eight, Van Gisbergen mastered the wet conditions to take his second win of the season.
It was a fourth-place finish for De Pasquale, while after starting down in 16th, Chaz Mostert make it up to fifth during the chaotic race.
Under a Safety Car finish, it was Coulthard and Waters who drove home to complete the rostrum behind the Commodore of Van Gisbergen, who by winning Race 18 had denied Ford from clinching the manufacturer’s championship this weekend.
Simona de Silvestro equalled her career best result in tenth in the Kelly Nissan, behind Michael Caruso who made a full-time return in place of the injured Richie Stanaway for Garry Rogers Motorsport.
Fellow GRM driver in James Golding achieved his best result as a solo driver up in seventh, which is one position up from his career best finish at the Bathurst 1000 in 2018.
Team player Reynolds
Motorsport is very much a team sport, despite the onus heavily being on the drivers delivering results on track. And for Erebus and David Reynolds in Race 17, they were hit by this reality.
Having claimed his first pole position of the season, Reynolds was in a strong spot early in the race to challenge for a first win of 2019, though during his second pit-stop there was problems with the left-rear wheel nut.
The Erebus pit crew scrambled to attach the troubled nut, which cost Reynolds crucial time against the leaders and ultimately was consigned to finishing sixth.
Following the race, the 2017 Bathurst winner dismissed the pit-stop trouble and defended his team by stating that “it’s a part of team sport” when issues like this arise in motorsport.
Race 18 unfortunately didn’t get any better for Reynolds, with him boldly trying to pass McLaughlin down the inside at Turn 1 on a greasy opening lap, resulting in damage for both cars and leaving the Erebus worse off with a bent steering arm.
Reynolds finished four laps off the lead in the end down in 20th, while McLaughlin made a solid comeback to 11th to minimise the loss in his championship lead, which now stands at 292 points over teammate Coulthard.
Cars on fire
Normally the expression ‘being on fire’ would relate successful form, though two drivers during Race 18 in Townsville found their cars literally on fire.
Another troublesome weekend for Nick Percat included an inferno in pit late, which saw multiple pit personnel from rival teams rush to extinguish the flames caused from a bungled refuelling.
Upon dropping from being refuelled, the Brad Jones racer ignited the fuel left in the pit lane and also the rear of the car, which then had to be stopped at pit exit while a Safety Car was deployed to see the race home to the chequered flag.
Percat was in battle with pole sitter Waters towards the end of the Sunday race for a spot on the podium before the pit-lane inferno.
Also on fire at the end of the race was Kelly Racing’s Garry Jacobson, who was in the end not classified as a finisher in the chaotic rain affected race.
Holden and Red Bull recommit to Triple Eight
It hasn’t been a typical season of success for Triple Eight, however there has been a recommitment from Holden and chief sponsor Red Bull for the next two years of the factory team.
Triple Eight won over the factory deal from former Holden Racing Team in Walkinshaw for 2017, as well as the development role for the current ZB Commodore chassis that won the championship in the same year with Jamie Whincup.
Red Bull have been with Triple Eight since 2013 and together have claimed five team’s championships, as well as well as four driver’s championships between Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen.
Townsville was where the Red Bull Holden Racing Team were said to have form this weekend, however it has been a similar weekend as far as struggling for qualifying speed and then having strong race pace.
Whincup battled hard with McLaughlin in Race 17, though ultimately was the runner-up to the dominant Ford driver. Van Gisbergen meanwhile was a solid fourth, though was unable to challenge Mostert for a spot on the podium.
A race ending crash for the winless Whincup, though, on Sunday summarises the luckless season that Triple Eight have been having, while Van Gisbergen took a win under Safety Car.
The benchmark DJR Team Penske have got the ball rolling in the latest Supercars silly season, announcing the retention of both their incumbent drivers for 2020.
There was uncertainty over the lineup at the Shell V-Power team, with Coulthard’s drive seemingly being on the line to the off-contract Chaz Mostert and McLaughlin possibly making an early departure to the United States to race with Team Penske there.
However, that’s been put to rest with the winning duo of McLaughlin and Coulthard set to race on for the dominant Ford squad for at least another season.
What this has done now is close the door for Mostert at DJR Team Penske, though its been reported heavily that the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner is set for a sensational manufacturer switch – shifting as a Ford stalwart over to Holden.
The prospective destination for Mostert has been speculated as Walkinshaw Andretti United, who see their both their drivers in James Courtney and Scott Pye with their futures uncertain having endured an uncompetitive 2019 season to date.
If Mostert left Tickford, the vacancy at the Victorian Ford squad is said to be on the radar of Simona de Silvestro, who has enlisted the help of former Supercars CEO James Warburton to land a plum drive for 2020.
Other names such as Tickford enduro driver Caruso and Tekno incumbent Jack Le Brocq will also be key players on the market, as well as Hazelwood – qualifying a career best fourth for Race 18 – who faces uncertainty over the future of the Matt Stone Racing entry.
More will be known over the coming weeks, but it is certain that a shake-up is on the cards for 2020 and Mostert arguably is the key contender.