Sunny skies and a picturesque setting underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the perfect scene for the launch of the 2020 Supercars Championship season.
At last, the 2019 Bathurst 1000 has been run and won, with so much hype and anticipation for the great race now cooling down into reflection back on another incredible 161-laps.
From another thrilling finish, to clashing teammates and safety car shenanigans, here are all the key talking points from the Bathurst 1000.
Scott McLaughlin wins the Peter Brock Trophy
Having claimed 14 out of 24 pole positions already in 2019, McLaughlin emphatically added a fifteenth to his incredible tally at the Bathurst 1000, breaking his own record set back in 2017.
The reigning Supercars champion strung together a 2:03.378 in what was the final lap of the shootout, shattering the previous best time of the session set by Chaz Mostert with a four-tenths of a second margin.
Though qualifying means very little during the endurance race, with so much happening throughout the day before McLaughlin eventually crossed the finish line to claim the chequered flag and his first Bathurst victory with co-driver Alex Prémat.
McLaughlin and Prémat were involved heavily with the Red Bull Holden Racing Team cars throughout the race, as well as a threat from Tickford before their cars took each other out.
There was an off for Frenchman Prémat early in the race, which gave up track position to the Supercheap Auto Mustang and the Red Bull of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes. Eventually, they made it back to the front, with the question mark of fuel hanging over McLaughlin’s head.
In the final stint after their seventh pit-stop, McLaughlin and Whincup were believed to be not fuelled to the end of the race. While the latter took advantage of a late Safety Car to drop extra fuel, the 26-year old Kiwi conserved for multiple laps before being assisted by two safety car interventions to hold off Shane van Gisbergen for the win.
The win for McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske, when put into perspective, may go down as one of the most famous in Bathurst history. It’s the first win in 25-years for the Dick Johnson name at the Mountain, while Prémat becomes the first Frenchman to taste victory here.
In what has been an ultra-successful year for the Penske organisation too, Roger – who stood on the podium with Johnson – has added a maiden Bathurst 1000 victory to an Indy 500 win, an IndyCar championship and the IMSA title too which they won at Petit Le Mans yesterday.
It’s a 622-point lead in the championship now for McLaughlin, as he squares up to go back-to-back in the Supercars championship – looking to become the first since Whincup in 2012 to win Bathurst in the same year as winning the title.
A race of two halves
Once again, Bathurst was a race of two halves, with there being only one safety car in the first 102 laps – before another 7 appearances in the last 60 laps.
What initially looked like a clean start at the beginning of the day, quickly turned on itself with Tim Slade finding the wall in the run up the hill on the opening lap.
Todd Hazelwood was the next car to bow out, buried in the wall at Reid Park on Lap 102. From there, the pace of the race suddenly changed from being very fast, to being truncated by multiple safety car appearances.
It wasn’t too long after that on Lap 113 that Jake Kostecki found trouble in the wildcard entry and caused another safety car intervention, which for all the strategists was one lap short of the critical lap required in the run home.
Safety cars continued to breed, as there were more drivers finding themselves out of the race – including the controversial shunt between Tickford teammates Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters.
From the sixth safety car, is where the fuel equation really became critical for the leading drivers, following 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi’s tour through the gravel at Murray’s Corner. This was on Lap 135, and the leaders in Whincup and McLaughlin hadn’t fuelled up enough to get to the chequered flag.
The safety car on Lap 151 was the decisive strategical moment, because Whincup had elected to pit and take on fuel to get his car to the end, while McLaughlin, who’d been conserving, had stayed out to take the lead.
So often does the first hundred laps of the Bathurst 1000 produce uneventful racing, though it is always in the latter stages of the day when fatigue starts to set in – that we see the pace of the race change.
Tickford’s teammate implosion
The Victorian-based Ford team made their strongest showing at Bathurst since their 2014 victory, though any hope of a win was taken away on Lap 124 when teammates Mostert and Waters collided at The Chase.
Sitting third and fourth on track, Mostert in the Supercheap Auto Mustang tried to pass his teammate around the outside of The Chase, before he locked up and collected the Monster Energy Mustang, putting both cars into the gravel.
Both were able to bring the cars back into the pits while the safety car was deployed, though the tension in the garage was palpable with both races ruined and a lost opportunity for the Tickford team. The Supercheap Auto Mustang pilot was also hit with a drive-through penalty.
Incredibly, this isn’t the first time that the pair have locked horns at Bathurst, having twelve months ago had a blue at Forrest’s Elbow. On that occasion, Mostert put Waters’ then co-driver in David Russell into the wall.
Given the heavy speculation around Mostert’s Supercars future and also the recent re-signing of Waters by Tickford, the clash looked far worse for the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner, who is said to be on his way to another team in 2020.
Backing up behind the Safety Car
This one will have many talking until the next round of the Supercars championship on the Gold Coast and that is Fabian Coulthard’s tactic of slowing the pack down on Lap 135 under the Safety Car.
Citing safety over the team radio as the reason for having to go unusually slow, Coulthard was successful at the head of a pack of drivers which included Van Gisbergen, who needed pitting along with McLaughlin and Whincup.
Coulthard slowing down meant that the Shell V-Power Team did not have to double stack, which would have been the same story at Red Bull which could have potentially compromised McLaughlin’s track position – given the proximity between the two teams in the pit-lane.
Whilst it wasn’t the ultimate reason for Whincup’s race unravelling, it did cost Van Gisbergen and his co-driver Garth Tander, even though they still finished as the runner up behind McLaughlin and Prémat.
For that, there has been heavy criticism of Coulthard, and the tactics employed by the Shell V-Power Team in an attempt to engineer victory for their leading driver. Though given that Supercars is a team sport – this is was very much a team play, for which the Kiwi took a drive-through penalty.
Silly Season movements
While the glory of the Bathurst 1000 takes centre stage across the weekend, it is still a round of the Supercars championship and silly season talks do not stop.
Announced in the early part of the weekend was the new two-car team set to be run out of Sydney in 2020, headed up by podium finisher James Courtney and involving the Tekno Autosports car currently driven by Jack Le Brocq.
What’s been speculated is that Le Brocq, as a result, will reunite with Tickford, replacing Mostert who is expected to land at Walkinshaw Andretti United. While the vacant seat next to Courtney is anyone’s guess – with names like Will Brown and Richie Stanaway mentioned – in conjunction with Boost Mobile sponsorship.
There could be mass changes at Kelly Racing too, with it suggested that the four-car Nissan Altima team could downsize to two and change manufacturers over to Ford and race the Mustang.
Rick Kelly appears to be the only driver of the current Kelly quartet that looks certain to retain his seat, leaving the futures of Garry Jacobson, Andre Heimgartner and Simona De Silvestro (who has inked a reserve and test driver role with Porsche in Formula E) hanging in the balance.
With 2020 team entries needing to be confirmed by October 18 for Supercars, it isn’t only Kelly Racing that faces the chop, with stalwarts Garry Rogers Motorsport said to be facing a possible exit from the category altogether – due to the probability of their title sponsor in Boost Mobile looking to withdraw their backing after a trying season for the Holden team.
GRM have indicated that if Supercars’ proposed control upright isn’t introduced for 2020, then they may have no choice but to quit – due to a lack of funding for the squad which has been a permanent addition to grid since 1996.
With the end of the Supercars season drawing near, all the pieces will slowly move into place and the 2020 vision of the grid will become clearer.