From the Top End of Australia in Darwin, to just over 2,500km south-east to Townsville in the north of Queensland, the rollercoaster that is the Supercars championship in 2020 continued to roll on.
Such short turnarounds have seen some swings in the championship at the first of two Townsville SuperSprint events. Between some crucial gains being made in the standings for the seven-time champion in Jamie Whincup, to damage limitation for the reigning champ – here are the Townsville talking points.
Gains for the GOAT
A relatively successful couple of weekends in Darwin would’ve energised Jamie Whincup and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, coming to a street circuit and in particular that the seven-time champ has had great success at.
In typical Whincup fashion, the 37-year old dominated Races 19 and 20 from pole position ahead of Chaz Mostert on both occasions, to cut the gap in the championship to Scott McLaughlin to only 109-points.
While the Shell V-Power Racing Team and McLaughlin had their own struggles at the Reid Park street circuit, Whincup and Red Bull staked their claim as to why they are still one of the best combinations in the business.
Winning the round for the second time in three weekends, Whincup scored third in Race 21 to ensure he accumulated the most points of anyone across the Townsville SuperSprint weekend – totalling 286-points for the round ahead of Cameron Waters and McLaughlin on 23-points.
With 15-laps to go in Race 21, Whincup made his compulsory stop and did so for only rear tyres which moved him into podium contention – after starting fourth on the grid. In the end he was unable to threaten Waters for second, though third still meant he’d beaten his Ford rival for the weekend in terms of points.
Having a strong car already in Townsville will set the GOAT up for another crack at clawing back points into McLaughlin’s lead, when the championship resumes next week at the very same venue.
Something that will surely hamper McLaughlin’s desire to extend his championship lead to beyond 300-points before what surely will be the final round at the Bathurst 1000.
Carnage at Turn 2
Turn 2 at the Reid Park street circuit is no stranger to chaos, and some will fondly remember the incident last year between McLaughlin and David Reynolds – which sparked a feud between the two drivers and their teams.
Though on this occasion during Race 19, it was the other Erebus Motorsport Commodore of Anton De Pasquale amongst others caught up in a gridlock of cars at the infamous right-hander – which ruined many a driver’s race that afternoon.
De Pasquale looked to be tagged by Shane van Gisbergen from behind, which spun the Penrite car around – while the Red Bull car speared on towards the outside wall and into cars which had tried to avoid the incident by going around the outside.
Todd Hazelwood, James Courtney, Jack Le Brocq, Macauley Jones, Zane Goddard and the Kelly cars of Rick Kelly and Andre Heimgartner all found themselves facing that outside wall.
Four of those cars ended up retiring from the race, along with Nick Percat thanks to an engine failure, in what was another tough day for Brad Jones Racing.
Kelly went on to finish a lap down and classified in 17th, ahead of Alex Davison who had also sustained damage on that first lap and then van Gisbergen who was last of the classified runners even though he parked the car in the garage on Lap 30.
A post-race investigation by the stewards and Driving Standards Advisor Craig Baird ruled that they ‘were not able to determine on the available evidence that any driver was wholly responsible for the incident’.
Scott’s damage limitations
There was a big shock during Q2 during qualifying for Race 19 when championship leader Scott McLaughlin parked up his Shell V-Power Mustang and found himself eliminated ahead of the Top-10 Shootout.
The benchmark qualifier for 2020 admitted to making a mistake which left him qualifying in 16th ahead of the Saturday race in Townsville.
“You get one set of tyres, one chance going into Turn 1, I made a bias change for that run, just locked the rears and I was wide,” McLaughlin remarked upon his elimination from the session, which saw Whincup take his 88th career pole position.
Coming into the weekend with a 177-point advantage in the championship and expressing his desire to build a gap in excess of 300 heading into what’ll likely be the series finale at the Bathurst 1000 – the 27-year old set about to limitate the damage during Race 19.
Taking advantage of the first lap carnage at Turn 2, the Shell V-Power racer catapulted up the order and ultimately finished the race in seventh position – knowing that a shot at the podium was going to be out of the question.
McLaughlin snuck down the inside at Turn 2 when the carnage was ensuing on the outside, before pitting on Lap 8 to try an aggressive strategy for a strong result – only to be thwarted by Lee Holdsworth and Scott Pye who pitted a lap later.
In the end, seventh for McLaughlin and the victory for Whincup in Race 19 only cut the gap to 141-point in the standings, before Race 20 was ad nauseum for the championship leader – qualifying in thirteenth, pitting early and finishing the race up in sixth.
But a win sets him for next week
A change between qualifying for Race 20 and 21 meant that McLaughlin was back to his dominant best and claimed pole position for the final race of the weekend – which he then converted to a victory.
With Whincup cutting the overall championship lead that the 27-year old had, the win in Sunday’s Race 21 was crucial in setting the team up for another round of racing in Townsville next weekend.
McLaughlin was able to out-drag Waters from the front-row of the grid down to the first heavy braking zone which was Turn 2 and then from there was able to control the race – despite a threat from the Monster Energy Mustang after the compulsory pit-stops.
In the end and with the better grip, the reigning Supercars champion was able to win over his fellow Ford driver by 4 seconds – protecting his championship lead which overall took a 54-point hit thanks to Whincup’s strong weekend.
123-points now is the gap between McLaughlin and Whincup, as the battle for the championship firmly revolves around the two Ford and Holden heavyweights at the conclusion of this round.
Van Gisbergen’s Race 20 podium placing also meant that the Red Bull team outscored the Shell V-Power outfit across the weekend and by doing so – taking a slender lead in the team’s standings by 16-points. All while McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard only had fourth as a weekend best and then finished outside the Top 15 in the next two races.
384-points is the gap back to Mostert, who despite his two second place finishes during the weekend was able to jump back ahead of van Gisbergen for third in the standings. Though realistically anyone beyond McLaughlin and Whincup are contenders in the championship now.
With another weekend in Townsville coming up in under seven days’ time, the question on everyone’s minds is still; what happens next in the Supercars championship?
Obviously with various restrictions still in place across different states and territories in Australia, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic – Supercars has been forced to alter many of its plans on the hoof to ensure a valid championship is still contested.
The plan up until recently following Townsville, was for the teams to go back into their Queensland hubs with a weekend off and then head to Queensland Raceway in Ipswich for a double-header.
Though with Queensland Raceway now unlikely to have their circuit prepared for the prospective September 19-20 and 26-27 dates, Supercars is now supposedly looking at The Bend in South Australia as its penultimate round for the championship.
The Bathurst 1000 is all but confirmed as the season finale for 2020 and will also be delayed a week to an October 18 date, in order to allow teams the adequate time to meet New South Wales quarantine restrictions – but also to avoid a clash with the AFL Grand Final which has been confirmed for October 24.
As things currently stand, there are no travel restrictions between Queensland and South Australia which would mean an easy passage between states for the teams and crews. An onsite hotel at The Bend Motorsport Park would then house everybody for what could a standalone round for the Bathurst 1000.