After another outbreak of Covid-19 in Victoria saw the Winton SuperSprint cancelled, the Supercars championship returned to the track for the first time in a month and since The Bend SuperSprint in South Australia.
Supercars reaches the end of its four consecutive weekends of racing, as another round at the Reid Park street circuit in Townsville sees out a chunk of the 2020 championship.
With so much going on off the track, there was still plenty happening on it at the second Townsville SuperSprint and here are the key talking points.
McLaughlin wins, extends championship lead
After last weekend’s struggles in Townsville, championship leader Scott McLaughlin made an emphatic statement in the opening leg of the second SuperSprint at the Reid Park street circuit – winning from pole position.
The Kiwi hinted at having found the balance in his Shell V-Power Mustang, after his win in Race 21 a week ago and that pace finally translated to a dominant win 3.4-seconds ahead of Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert.
Though on Sunday it was a more cautious run for the 27-year old, having conceded the win of Race 23 to Shane van Gisbergen and stated post-race about the risk versus reward factor in terms of the championship.
“Obviously Shane can risk a little bit more, but we’re in a pretty good spot at the moment,” said McLaughlin after finished the first of the Sunday races in the runner’s up position.
Race 24 saw McLaughlin start from tenth, though after an early pit-stop was able to make inroads to provisionally get into the lead of the race ahead of Todd Hazelwood. The Kiwi was assisted by the Safety Car intervening, though after the restart was easily swallowed by the Red Bull Holdens to be relegated to third.
Coming into the weekend with a 123-point lead over Whincup in the championship after the seven-time champion cut the lead last weekend, McLaughlin was able to extend his lead in the standings again – which is now 143-points.
Maiden poles for BJR duo
The two quick-fire qualifying sessions on Sunday ahead of Races 23 and 24 saw a pair of maiden pole positions for Brad Jones Racing team duo Nick Percat and Todd Hazelwood.
On genuine pace, Percat swooped in on his final run to eclipse McLaughlin’s provisional pole time by-0.08 seconds for a first ever pole in the 31-year old, former Bathurst 1000 winner’s career.
Percat again was sitting at the pointy end of the field in the second qualifying session of the day, though his teammate Hazelwood on his final fast lap plugged in a time which was 0.02-second faster.
In that session, there was also drama for McLaughlin who was impeded by Garry Jacobson – for which the Matt Stone Racing car was later penalised for. A 1:12.459 from the Shell V-Power racer only placed the reigning champion in tenth for Race 24.
A stellar result for the Albury based team however, who’ve shown a resurgence in form throughout the truncated 2020 championship. Percat has two wins to his name from the Sydney Motorsport Park double, while young Hazelwood also claimed a maiden podium at Eastern Creek.
Race 23 saw Percat beaten to the podium by Jamie Whincup, though ultimately was beaten by a rampart van Gisbergen for the lead in the early part of the race. The Red Bull Holden pitted on Lap 17, while Percat made his compulsory tyre stop four-laps later – only to re-join the race in an effective fifth position.
Hazelwood from the pole in Race 24 commanded the early portion and even had the upper-hand following the compulsory pit-stop – ended up compromised by the late Safety Car intervention and ended up finishing sixth, getting swamped by cars around him.
Though if it wasn’t for the Safety Car, it was widely tipped that the 24-year old would have been able to round up McLaughlin for a maiden race victory.
SVG breaks win drought
2020 has been a less than ideal season for the 2016-Supercars championship, having been the luckless campaigner in the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and that ill-fortune continued in Race 22 with another non-finish.
A power-steering failure which came to light on Lap 21 forced the Kiwi into another retirement from the race, despite the Red Bull team’s efforts to rectify the problem in the form of a steering wheel change.
That did result in a black flag being waved at the Kiwi and forced another DNF result on van Gisbergen’s scorecard for 2020.
However, fortune favoured the 31-year old on Sunday with his first win of the season coming in Race 23, since the final event of last year back in Newcastle.
From fourth on the grid, van Gisbergen bolted to racing polesitter Percat before passing the Brad Jones Racer on the seventh lap of the race at Turn 13. From there, the Red Bull Holden ran an unbothered race to win by 8.4-seconds over McLaughlin.
Unexpectedly in Race 24 from twelfth on the grid, van Gisbergen won back-to-back races in Townsville, having pitted later once again and then was able to capitalise on the Safety Car intervention.
Twelfth became the lowest position in the history of Supercars in Townsville, from which a driver has won a race. As a result, it kept Red Bull ahead of the Shell V-Power team in the team’s standings by 42-points, while van Gisbergen stayed in fifth behind Mostert and Waters.
Safety Car sets up thrilling finale
Race 24 was turned onto its head when on Lap 24, Anton De Pasquale suffered a mechanical failure and ended up in the fence – resulting in the deployment of the Safety Car.
The young Penrite racer was thankfully unharmed in the incident, though it did throw together the ingredients for a thrilling conclusion to the final leg of the second Townsville SuperSprint in as many weeks.
McLaughlin led the race as a result of his early pit-stop, ahead of pole sitter Hazelwood and the longer the Safety Car stayed out – the better for the championship leader’s tyre perseveration.
That was a similar though for Hazelwood’s soft tyres, which he had flat-spotted at Turn 2 when he out-braked himself following his compulsory pit-stop and while under pressure from one of the Red Bull Holdens.
Though once the race was restarted with 9-laps to go, it was van Gisbergen on the freshest tyres from down in ninth who started picking off the cars ahead – while McLaughlin was holding off pole sitter Hazelwood.
Once the Red Bull Holden duo of Whincup and van Gisbergen were line astern behind the Brad Jones Holden of Hazelwood, then it was only a matter of time before they’d be hounding the rear of the Shell V-Power Mustang in the lead.
It was a battle of the heavyweights as McLaughlin kept the bulls at bay, but after Whincup let his teammate past on the fresher of the soft tyres, the leading Ford was dived upon stunningly at Turn 13 by not only van Gisbergen – but Whincup also.
With 3-laps to go, a Triple Eight one-two finish was seemingly secured which would be the first for the factory Holden team since the Gold Coast 600 last year. A second straight win for van Gisbergen and the overall round victory going to McLaughlin.
Celebrating Triple Eight’s 200th
Van Gisbergen’s first win of 2020 in Race 23 was also an important milestone for Triple Eight Race Engineering, as the factory Holden team achieved their 200th win in the Supercars championship.
In a year where many have had little to celebrate, this is an important accomplishment for a team which has been at the pinnacle of Australian touring car racing for almost two decades – having come to Australia thanks to Roland Dane’s efforts.
Sandown 2003 was the first time Triple Eight Race Engineering debuted in the then V8 Supercars championship, with Betta Electrical backing and in Ford Falcons. From there, the team have won eight driver’s titles and nine team’s championships – as well as seven Bathurst 1000s.
Whincup has won all seven of his titles with Dane’s Queensland based squad, after picking up the discarded driver from an underwhelming debut with Garry Rogers Motorsport. While Craig Lowndes won six of his seven Bathurst 1000s at Triple Eight – including the emotional 2006 Great Race, which followed the tragic demise of Peter Brock.
The one-two finish in Race 24 again, a demonstration of why Triple Eight have been a benchmark outfit in this series for such a long period of time.
Between that, the team transitioned from Ford to Holden in 2010 and then became the factory Holden Racing Team in 2017 after the famous marque elected to switch camps from the stalwarts at Walkinshaw.
Team owner Dane paid tribute to his long-standing team members in the likes of current manager in Mark Dutton and technical director Jeromy Moore – who in between engineered success in Porsche’s LMP1 World Endurance Championship programme. As well as paying tribute to Ken McNamara, who of KRE fame have long supplied Triple Eight with engines.
With that famous branding, Triple Eight intend to win the championship in 2020 which is also the final year that Holden will exist as a marque in the Australian touring car championship.