The wait has been arduous since the Supercars championship last turned a wheel in anger at the Townsville SuperSprint in July, with the COVID-19 pandemic having halted the series due to states and territories locking down in response to outbreaks.
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.
It was a race crammed full of action, with crashes, penalties and overtakes galore.
Up until the race itself the day was going according to the form guide, with Scott McLaughlin grabbing pole position. Jamie Whincup lined up alongside the championship leader on the front row.
Off the start it was Whincup who got away best, moving ahead of McLaughlin and into the lead on the run down to turn one.
The same couldn’t be said for Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen, who made contact with the right-rear corner of Nick Percat’s car, sending the Brad Jones Racing driver into a spin and into the side of teammate Todd Hazelwood.
Van Gisbergen was given a drive-through penalty for causing this avoidable contact.
The penalties didn’t stop there for Red Bull Holden, as Jamie Whincup was unsafely released in the pit lane and into the path of Anton de Pasquale, for which Whincup picked up a 15-second time penalty.
That incident came during a safety car period brought out after Jake Kostecki went hard into the barriers at turn ten.
Kostecki was the victim of the aftermath of contact made between Jack Le Brocq and Rick Kelly as the two went side by side through turns seven and eight. Both drivers went off the track, and upon re-entry Kelly made contact with Kostecki, sending the Matt Stone Racing driver on a one-way trip to the barriers.
Kelly was slapped with a drive-through penalty for this.
As the green flags were waved again on lap ten, McLaughlin found himself in trouble as he went past James Courtney before the control line.
And so McLaughlin became the next driver to find himself with a 15-second time penalty against his name. The two main championship protagonists would end up right down at the bottom of the field come the chequered flag. Whincup was classified in 17th position with McLaughlin 20th.
A bad day for Brad Jones Racing wasn’t over, as Macaulay Jones dipped a wheel into the grass at turn five and went into the barriers. That brought out the safety car for the second time and only added to the world of pain for BJR.
With the chaos came the calm of Anton de Pasquale’s race. The Penrite Racing driver took his first Supercars win having comfortably led most of the race on the soft compound.
This great result will boost the Melbourne-based team in what this difficult time living far away from home.
With penalties being applied to Whincup, Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin, the podium was a non-Red Bull Holden or DJR Team Penske affair. James Courtney finished second and Scott Pye was third.
Mark Winterbottom finished fourth, which he was a little disappointed with given that he had been in the lead of the race before the first safety car period. As everyone bar Jack Smith came into the pit lane during that safety period, Winterbottom found himself boxed in, losing track position as a result.
After race 13 of the season, Scott McLaughlin still leads the championship over Jamie Whincup, but the margin has been cut slightly to 101 points. Meanwhile, in the teams championship DJR Team Penske have a 36-point lead over Red Bull Holden.
There’s more racing to come in Darwin on Sunday, with Race 14 starting at 1:50 pm AEST before Race 15 gets underway at 4pm.
Of Saturday’s racing is anything to go by, it will be unmissable stuff.