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.
The Bend Motorsport Park for the second week running hosted a round of the Supercars championship and significantly it was the penultimate of the truncated 2020 season.
Using the shortened ‘West’ layout, it was a important race meeting in terms of the championship as it saw the manufacturer’s title locked away and more crucially the driver’s title clinched.
Here then are the talking points between the championship results and some off-track news, from Week 2 of The Bend SuperSprint.
Three-peat for McLaughlin
Coming into the penultimate round of the season with a 215-point lead in the championship, Scott McLaughlin accumulated the points required to secure the 2020 driver’s title and win a third consecutive crown.
Winning the first two races of the three in the second Bend SuperSprint, McLaughlin put a stranglehold on the championship and pushed title rival and seven-time Supercars title victor Jamie Whincup out of contention.
The Kiwi swept all three pole positions for the weekend to take his overall tally to 15 for the season. McLaughlin held off Shane van Gisbergen in Race 28 by 0.6 for the opening win of the weekend, before in the next race inherited the victory off teammate Fabian Coulthard.
Coulthard executed a better start than his compatriot teammate and looked set for the victory in Race 29, before a driveline failure cruelled the Kiwi from winning a second race of the season.
Again in Race 30, McLaughlin was beaten to Turn 1 by the car starting on the front-row of the grid in Cameron Waters. As the pit-stops cycled through, the Shell V-Power racer came back out in second behind the Tickford Mustang – though ultimately ahead of title rival Whincup.
305-points ended up being the difference between McLaughlin and Whincup at the conclusion of the weekend, which was the goal for the champion-elect; to have the title secure before the season ending Bathurst 1000.
Waters wins his first solo race
Following the departures of Tickford stalwarts in Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert over consecutive years, it was always wondered which driver would lead the Victorian Ford squad into the future?
There was always one standout candidate in Cameron Waters in the Monster Energy Mustang, though the results before this 2020 championship haven’t quite backed up that sentiment.
Despite being a race winner of the Sandown 500 in 2017, where the 26-year old claimed victory with former Aston Martin World Endurance GT driver in Richie Stanaway, Waters hadn’t nailed the consistency to be up there with the championship heavyweights.
Though an accumulation of eight podiums across 2020, including his first solo win in Race 30 has placed the Ford driver firmly in contention to secure third in the championship for the first time in his career.
Waters executed his best weekend of the season, with a pair of third place finishes and then nailing the better start in the final race at The Bend to take his second career win. And while the championship hasn’t been a point of focus for Tickford – the Bathurst 1000 is.
With only one endurance race to contest with the co-drivers, Waters who will partner up with two-time Bathurst 1000 winner Will Davison, is already an outside favourite to win the Great Race.
More inconsistency for Whincup and Red Bull
In a weekend in which the title was on the line for seven-time champ Whincup, it was more inconsistency from the team and driver that proved costly – as McLaughlin secured a third-straight championship.
As if qualifying fourteenth and finishing tenth in Saturday’s Race 28 wasn’t already bad enough, in Race 29 Whincup was severely penalised for running over an air-hose during his compulsory pit-stop.
The wheel-gun attached to that particular hose which the Red Bull Holden driver ran over, was forcefully ripped from the hands of the mechanic and resulted in a slow pit-stop. Matters were made worse on safety grounds, as a steward’s investigation deemed the incident unsafe.
A $1,500 fine was handed down to the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, as well as 30-points were docked in the championships standings which could prove costly in the team’s title.
Though for Whincup’s own tally and battle with McLaughlin, the bungled pit-stop did cost extra time – which could have yielded a better result during that race.
Again, Whincup scored a podium in the final race of the weekend though it proved moot as his title rival finished a position ahead and ultimately created enough of a points buffer to not have to be concerned about the championship at the season ending Bathurst 1000.
Ford wins manufacturer’s title
The win for McLaughlin in Race 28 also sealed another important feat for the two marques involved in Supercars and that was the manufacturer’s title for Ford.
A fourteenth win for a Ford driver meant that the Blue Oval accumulated enough wins to be declared the manufacturer’s champion for 2020 – as this particular championship is decided upon how many wins a marque takes.
At the end of Race 28, McLaughlin won his twelfth race of the season with only his teammate Coulthard and Tickford’s Jack Le Brocq the other victors for the Blue Oval in 2020.
In their final year as a manufacturer in the Supercars championship, Holden had only amassed a total of ten wins at the time of Ford’s victory, which for the Blue Oval makes it two seasons in a row where they’ve won this honour.
The tally of wins for Ford was further added to in Race 29 with another victory for McLaughlin, while the de-facto race leader in Coulthard had his car come to a sudden halt after the pit-stops with what ended up being a driveline failure.
While Waters in Race 30 made it a Ford trifecta, winning the Blue Oval’s sixteenth race of 2020 ahead of the three-time champion in McLaughlin.
The team’s championship however stays alive heading to the season finale at the Bathurst 1000, with only 100-points separating leaders Shell V-Power Racing from the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.
Supercars goes back to Seven
There was significant news off-track as well heading into the second Bend SuperSprint, as Supercars announced their broadcast arrangements from 2021 for the next five years.
Pay-TV network in Fox Sports will continue to provide comprehensive coverage of the Supercars championship as it has since 2015, though the Seven Network will take over from Channel Ten as the Free to Air partner.
Supercars will return to Seven, who have been broadcaster of the championship through many eras and most recently up until the end of the 2014 season. Under this new arrangement between the broadcasters which is worth north of $200 million, Seven will show six events live – including the Bathurst 1000.
Seven, under the leadership of former Supercars CEO in James Warburton have been successfully able to add the likes of TCR Australia and S5000 championships to the network’s expanding portfolio. As well as maintaining the blue-ribband Bathurst 12 Hour GT race, which Supercars owns.
It is unknown as to what events will be on the FTA schedule, given the uncertainty of how he 2021 calendar for Supercars will look. Already it has been indicated that the traditional Adelaide 500 may not open the season and could occur later in the year – while the idea of a sprint round at Bathurst could open 2021 as hinted by Warburton.
Despite the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, the state of the Supercars championship appears to be in a strong place – with the confirmation of this broadcast deal and the impending introduction of Gen3 regulations in 2022.