Supercars returned to South Australia and the state’s latest racing facility at The Bend Motorsport Park, as the championship roared back into life after a short break following the Ipswich SuperSprint.
From breaking near-quarter century old records, to notching up five centuries worth of race starts in the championship, here are the key talking points from The Bend SuperSprint.
McLaughlin equals Lowndes’ win record
The records continue to tumble for Scott McLaughlin in 2019, with the reigning Supercars champion having racked up his 16th win of the year and doing so – equalled the great Craig Lowndes’ record of most wins in a single season.
The 26-year-old has had a stellar campaign to date including a pair of wins at The Bend, which was a bogey track for he and his Shell V-Power Racing Team in 2018. McLaughlin now has amassed a 573-point lead in the championship over closest rival in Chaz Mostert.
Winning 16 races in a single season is a feat that has not been accomplished since Lowndes achieved it in his title winning 1996 campaign. Not even in the dominant eras of Mark Skaife and Jamie Whincup, was the three-time Supercars champion’s record matched.
With five rounds still to go in 2019, it’s not a question of if McLaughlin will surpass the 16 wins, but what will the new benchmark will be. The Enduro Cup is always an unpredictable time of the year in Supercars and winning the Bathurst 1000 will be on the Kiwi’s radar.
When Supercars first raced at The Bend in 2018, it was a nightmare weekend for the Ford teams and in particular the Shell V-Power squad. Triple Eight and Holden were dominant for the entirety of the weekend, though in 2019 the story has been quite different.
Equipped with an aerodynamically superior car in the Mustang, the Ford runners have enjoyed a much more fruitful weekend at The Bend, with all but one podium position having been claimed by the Blue Oval.
McLaughlin was the master again and despite having conceded the lead of Race 22 to Will Davison in the 23Red Racing Mustang, still walked away with the pair of wins under his belt. Davison meanwhile showed strong pace all weekend and was able to secure second on the Sunday.
Mostert in the Supercheap Auto Mustang claimed a pair of podiums, which has also boosted his position in the championship several places, now into second ahead of McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard.
On debut at The Bend in a Mustang was a wildcard entry from Tickford, with Super2 young gun Thomas Randle making his maiden Supercars race start. The 23-year old topped the Additional Driver’s practice session at the start of the weekend and was a regular in the top ten during the other sessions – adapting to the Mustang on the soft tyres – though during the races did struggle to keep the car up there.
Regardless of finishing 17th in both races, Randle did impress on debut and was already ahead of fellow Super2 wildcard in Jack Smith, who has had several Supercars outings already for Brad Jones Racing. The young Ford driver has also been confirmed as Lee Holdsworth’s co-driver for the Enduro Cup.
Wildcards or not, the Fords once again proved to be the class of the field and at a circuit at which they struggled last year, it seems there’s no place that they can be beaten at the moment.
500th race for Triple Eight
It wasn’t the most memorable milestone race for the Supercars juggernauts, but Triple Eight during Race 21 celebrated their 500th race start in the championship – having joined back in 2003.
The team, which for the past few seasons has been operating as the factory Holden team, has enjoyed multiple driver’s and team’s championships during both its time with Ford and since 2010 with Holden.
Seven Bathurst 1000 victories also sit among Triple Eight’s achievements in Supercars, including the famous three-peat by seven-time Supercars champion Jamie Whincup and seven-time Bathurst winner in Craig Lowndes.
With such a history of success, 2019 has been a far cry from the records of the past for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. Out-classed by the Shell V-Power Racing Team and their dominant combination of Scott McLaughlin and the Ford Mustang – Whincup and teammate Shane van Gisbergen are not in immediate title contention.
Here at The Bend, at which the duo was the benchmark twelve months ago, in their milestone race Van Gisbergen managed a lonely sixth. Whincup in the meantime lost ground to David Reynolds at the start and as a result couldn’t recover to any better than eleventh.
Regardless of no longer being the benchmark team in 2019, Triple Eight’s records speak for itself, as does the outspoken nature of the team’s owner in Roland Dane – who had been vocal from the outset about the Mustang.
Where Triple Eight can be expected to threaten this season now, is the upcoming Enduro Cup where Whincup and Lowndes find themselves paired up once again. Van Gisbergen also will benefit from three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Garth Tander being in his car.
Enduro Cup 2020
It was widely tipped that The Bend would earn a place on the Enduro Cup roster and indeed that has been confirmed for 2020, with the South Australian circuit set to replace Sandown as the pre-Bathurst endurance race.
The impressive new facility which made its maiden Supercars appearance in 2018, has been host already to Australian Endurance Championship GT races, as well as the new TCR Australia category and is set to stage a round of the Asian Le Mans Series in 2020.
With the track and its surroundings further developed from its dusty debut last year, the complex 4.9km circuit has a strong European vibe about it and would lend itself nicely for any form of endurance race.
A 500km Supercars race will be held at The Bend in 2020, as the replacement of the traditional Sandown 500 which will revert to the SuperSprint format. A feat which the circuit’s owner in Dr Sam Shahin regards as ‘a big feather in The Bend’s cap’.
2020’s Enduro Cup schedule will see The Bend precede the Bathurst 1000, which this year will raise the curtain on the three-event endurance season. The Gold Coast 600 is set to keep its slot as the final enduro.
Reynolds’ Erebus future not secure
Much to many people’s surprise, David Reynolds’ name has been thrown into the Supercars silly season with the 2017 Bathurst 1000 winner still yet to put pen to paper on a new deal with Erebus Motorsport.
Having joined the team in 2016 as a refugee from Tickford, Reynolds played a key role in the Betty Klimenko owned squad’s revival, which included a shift from Queensland to Victoria for their home base and a change of car from the Mercedes E63 AMG to Holden Commodore.
Reynolds’ teammate in young gun Anton De Pasquale, who finished on the podium during Race 21, has already been re-signed by Erebus for next season, while the lead driver is yet to be confirmed.
A shock departure from Erebus for Reynolds could be significant, given that it was widely tipped that the 34-year old would be a dark horse in this year’s championship. Given the dominant form of McLaughlin and the Mustang in 2019, Reynolds remains winless and has been inconsistent for form.
Pit-stop issues in the past events have seemingly cost Reynolds strong results, with his season best still only a second placing in Darwin. Like Triple Eight, the Enduro Cup seems to be a focus now for where wins may come for Erebus and likewise Reynolds – who has with co-driver Luke Youlden been quite strong there.
If Reynolds were to depart Erebus, then destinations such as Walkinshaw Andretti United have been mooted to replacing the outgoing James Courtney and to pair with Chaz Mostert who is also rumoured to be bound for the Holden squad. A return to Tickford has also not been ruled out.