A dramatic weekend at the Gold Coast 600 means Scott McLaughlin will have to wait at least another fortnight to successfully defend his Supercars Championship title.
It proved to be a frustrating weekend for the championship leader, who started in pole position on Saturday but ultimately finished third after being overtaken by compatriot Shane van Gisbergen in the final laps, while he failed to start on the Sunday after a sickening crash during qualifying.
Instead it was Red Bull that dominated on the streets of Surfers Paradise, finishing one-two in both races with Jamie Whincup-Craig Lowndes and Shane van Gisbergen-Garth Tander taking out the Saturday and Sunday races respectively.
There was chaos on Saturday when Chaz Mostert crashed during the top-ten shootout after he had topped the preceding qualifying race, with the damage inflicted on his car more than enough to rule him and James Moffatt out of the remainder of the round.
Not only that, but their car will not feature in either Sandown or Newcastle, with the pair to instead race in a spare Mustang supplied by Tickford Racing in the former event.
Scott McLaughlin, who only needed to finish ahead of Van Gisbergen in both races to secure the title with two rounds remaining, secured pole position for the first race after being quickest across both qualifying and the top-ten shootout.
It was left to his co-driver, Alexandre Premat, to start the race, while Lowndes and Tander started in No. 888 and No. 97 in the places of Whincup and Van Gisbergen respectively.
When the lights went out to signal the start of the race Lowndes made what proved to be the race-winning move, overtaking Premat at the very start.
Whincup and Lowndes took turns in keeping car 888 in the lead for the majority of the race, eventually leading a Red Bull Holden one-two after Van Gisbergen overtook McLaughlin, who couldn’t reclaim the lead for car 17, in the final 15 laps before the safety car was dispatched.
It marked the first time Whincup and Lowndes finished on top of the podium as a team since the pair took out the 2008 Bathurst 1000, at which time they were driving with Ford and Triple Eight were commercially known as Team Vodafone.
Saturday’s results reduced McLaughlin’s lead in the championship standings to 613 points, meaning all he needed to do on Sunday was finish ahead of 2016 champion Van Gisbergen if he was to become the first driver to wrap up the title on the holiday strip.
But just a week after his controversial victory in the Bathurst 1000 was officially ratified, the 25-year-old’s day came to an early end following a sickening crash during qualifying, which forced the timed session to be called off one minute early.
In a great act of sportsmanship his bitter rival and compatriot Van Gisbergen stopped his car and helped haul McLaughlin out of his Mustang, which flipped during the collision at turn four.
While McLaughlin was passed fit to take part in the top-ten shootout, his car was later rendered irreparable and was therefore ruled out of the main race, ending his hopes of wrapping up the championship on the day. He was later taken to hospital as a precaution.
Meanwhile, Richie Stanaway was dramatically stood down by Boost Mobile Racing after missing an autograph session, which he put down to an “honest mistake”. Dylan O’Keeffe later took his place for the second race of the event.
Van Gisbergen eventually claimed pole position and in tandem with Tander led car 97 to victory, finishing less than a second ahead of the pairing of Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes, making it a dream weekend for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.
As if Scott McLaughlin’s event-ending crash during qualifying wasn’t enough, there was drama on the very first lap when Todd Hazelwood caused a multiple-car pile-up on turn 11, the result being that he copped a pit-lane penalty for his sins.
Somehow the safety car, which had been dispatched late the previous day, wasn’t needed as several other vehicles were able to avoid the pile-up.
It marked the first time Red Bull Holden had finished one-two in back-to-back races since last year’s second race at The Bend and first at Sandown.
David Reynolds rounded out the podium, leading Penrite Racing to third place and completing a horror weekend for the Shell V-Power Racing team.
Van Gisbergen’s win sees his deficit to Scott McLaughlin in the championship standings reduced to 463 points, with the final endurance round in Sandown and the season-ending Newcastle 500 to follow after this weekend.
Chaz Mostert was also still the faintest of mathematical chances of claiming the title, but his hopes ended with the aforementioned crash during the top-ten shootout on Saturday.
Next year’s Gold Coast 600 will feature a race to be contested under lights, following in the footsteps of Eastern Creek – which will return in 2020 after it was controversially left off the calendar this year – and Perth, which has hosted night events for the last two years.
It comes after I proposed in an article last August that the streets of Surfers Paradise could be flagged as a potential venue to a race under lights on the back of the success generated by the night race at Eastern Creek in the Greater Western Sydney area.
It would rival the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix in the way it is raced under lights to provide a great spectacle and provide a suitable viewing time for European audiences.
(Stephen Blackberry/Action Plus via Getty Images)
The Gold Coast event will again run across three days, as will the Perth and Sydney night events, with the likelihood that the race on Saturday will be raced under lights, while the Sunday race will remain a daytime spectacle, though this has yet to be confirmed by Supercars.
A Saturday night race at Surfers Paradise would potentially increase commercial revenue and television ratings – the Gold Coast event is one of seven fully televised by Channel Ten – as well as draw more spectators to the holiday strip for more than just a weekend getaway.
Next year events will be held generally every three weekends, except for a six-week break between Darwin and Eastern Creek to accommodate the Tokyo Olympics and a short two-week break between Sandown and Newcastle at the end of the season.
The Auckland SuperSprint will move to the Anzac Day weekend in April, which would see the Saturday race go head-to-head with the AFL clash between Collingwood and Essendon and the NRL clash between the St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters.
Back on topic to finish, after what’s been a tough year for Red Bull Holden so far given the dominance of Scott McLaughlin in his Ford Mustang supplied by Shell V-Power, it was nice to see them top the podium once again.
Saturday’s race win by Jamie Whincup was his record-extending 115th in Supercars but just his second this season, while Van Gisbergen added his Sunday race win to those he enjoyed in Tasmania, Townsville and his home town of Auckland.
With two rounds remaining Van Gisbergen will need a miracle to claim his second Supercars championship – he would have to clean sweep Sandown and hope McLaughlin fails to finish both races.
Though unlikely, this would reduce the gap between McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen to 113 points.
Realistically, though, the 25-year-old is likely to wrap up the title for the second straight year provided he finishes ahead of his compatriot in both races in the penultimate event of the year, thus rendering Newcastle as a dead rubber.