Ahead of the 2021 Formula One season, there was great anticipation surrounding what was supposed to be a record-breaking 23-race schedule – as it was a sign that the sport was returning to normality in this pandemic affected world.
Symmons Plains was another circuit that was sorely missed in the Covid-19 affected schedule for the 2020 Supercars championship and after a year on the sidelines, the Tasmania SuperSprint put on a spectacle.
Delayed by a week also, due to border closures in response to the most recent breakout of Covid-19 in Queensland, seeing the Supercars grid tackle the 2.4km, shortest circuit on the calendar was a sight for sore eyes.
From breaking a long-standing record for wins, to a confusing qualifying format and all the other fix-ins – here are the talking points from the Tasmania SuperSprint.
Van Gisbergen equals Skaife and Moffat’s record
Shane van Gisbergen made it six consecutive wins from the start of the season, claiming victory in Saturday’s Race 6 from a pole position which saw him an incredible 0.332-seconds ahead of Tickford’s Cameron Waters.
A poor start though for the 2016-Supercars champion saw Waters jump into the lead for the opening part of the race, though a rampart van Gisbergen didn’t waste any time to usurp the Monster Energy Mustang at Turn 6.
Lap 23 saw the championship leader make his compulsory pit-stop and emerge ahead of teammate Jamie Whincup, who was the first of the leaders to pit on Lap 17. From there, van Gisbergen brought his Red Bull Commodore home for a 46th career victory by four seconds – over seven-time champion Whincup.
The last time an Australian touring car championship driver won six straight races to start a season, was Mark Skaife in 1994 en route to his second title. Before him, only the legendary Allan Moffat achieved this in 1977.
Continuing what has been an incredible run for the Kiwi in 2021, van Gisbergen admitted in the build up to the event that he was still recovering from that mountain bike crash which saw him break his collarbone and some ribs.
In between the Sandown and Tasmania Supercars rounds, van Gisbergen also returned to Mount Panorama over Easter to contest the Bathurst 6 Hour production car race in which he won in a BMW. The Kiwi also took victory for Triple Eight in a Mercedes AMG GT3 the same weekend at Bathurst, in the GT World Challenge Australia championship.
Whincup’s winnings ways continue in Tasmania
Despite being the seven-time champion, Whincup has spent the first portion of the 2021 season in the shadow of his dominant teammate in van Gisbergen. Though the soon-to-retire Whincup broke his teammate’s winning streak for his first win this year and a thirteenth at Symmons Plains.
The 38-year old joined Ford’s Waters on the front-row of the grid for Race 7 and despite an even start, had to settle in behind the Monster Energy Mustang for the early part of the 44-lap race.
Waters then pitted early on Lap 14 for a tyre change, while both the Red Bull Commodores stayed out. After his own stop, Whincup’s superior race pace saw the seven-time champion dispatch Waters on Lap 26 with a great run from the Hairpin.
Matters were made worse for the pole sitter, as van Gisbergen and Davison relegated him to fourth towards the end of the race. Leaving Tickford then to lament their lack of race pace in comparison to their rivals.
However for Whincup, who leapt to second in the standings after a strong Sandown SuperSprint, led home another Triple Eight one-two finish for the weekend – instead though leading home teammate van Gisbergen.
It was also the first victory for Whincup in his new engineering partnership with Wes McDougall, following his long-time engineer in David Cauchi moving across to the van Gisbergen car to replace Grant McPherson.
Walkinshaw and Mostert break their win droughts
The Red Bull stranglehold on the championship has been broken and what a moment it was to see Chaz Mostert take his first victory for his new team at Walkinshaw Andretti United.
In what is the second year of their partnership, big things have been expected of the 2014-Bathurst 1000 winner and despite an up and down start to the season – victory in Race 8 has vindicated the potential of the Mostert-Walkinshaw combo.
Mostert got the better start from the front-row of the grid, piping rival and pole sitter in Waters to the first corner. From there, no one really asked any questions of the Appliances Online Commodore, which stretched its legs for a well earned 10-second victory.
Behind the 29-year old was where the drama unfolded, as Waters tyres and race pace fell away in the dying stages of the race – which saw the Shell V-Power Mustangs and Red Bull cars in sixth and seventh close up.
The race unfolded on the penultimate lap for Waters, as De Pasquale and Davison made their moves to secure their spots on the podium. Van Gisbergen also sought to get involved, though ultimately lost out and finished seventh – behind Waters and Whincup.
Walkinshaw Andretti United have been starved of a win since Scott Pye’s emphatic win under lights at the Melbourne 400 back in 2018, while Mostert also last stood on the top step of the podium at Albert Park in 2019 for his former team in Tickford.
Having also secured 5 extra championship points for the fastest lap, Mostert consolidated his place in the standings and moves to only being 165-points behind leader van Gisbergen – with only Whincup ahead in second.
Both cars on the podium, but what’s happened to DJR?
Many expected for the powerhouse at Dick Johnson Racing to continue to be a force in 2021, though with its new driver pairing, things have taken a slightly slower start for the likes of Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale.
Though both drivers bounced back from a not so handsome Sandown with podiums across the weekend, culminating in a double podium finish in Race 8 which saw both De Pasquale and Davison capitalise on a late decline from Waters.
De Pasquale at last broke his podium drought dating back to The Bend in 2020 and collected his first trophy for his new team at Shell V-Power Racing on Saturday. Whilst Davison tallied third in Race 7, adding to his podium at the Mount Panorama 500.
Qualifying in seventh, the 25-year old was up to fifth before his mandatory pit-stop on Lap 14 and survived a run in with teammate Will Davison on the out-lap. He also as a result was able to undercut both Waters and Mostert to emerge third overall.
The Shell V-Power Mustang didn’t have the pace in Race 6 to challenge Red Bull any further, thus De Pasquale finishing five-seconds behind Whincup – but by Race 8 and with a healthy tyre bank, they looked very strong.
There is no doubt about the credentials of Dick Johnson Racing, having won the championship for the last three years consecutively and given that the engineering line-up is pretty much the same – their early shortcomings in 2021 may purely be acclimatisation for the new driving line-up.
The criticism levelled by fans at the legendary team following a sombre Sandown SuperSprint was totally unwarranted, as supported by three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin – who staunchly defended his former outfit.
Neither De Pasquale or Davison are slouches when it comes to their driving and the results are surely due over the coming rounds. Another championship for DJR may not be on the cards in 2021 and in the immediate life after Team Penske – but it is unfair to rule them out from upsetting the apple cart.
In a bid to address the perennial issue of traffic around the short layout at Symmons Plains, Supercars introduced a new qualifying format for the pair of Sunday races – as well as brought back the knockout format for Saturday’s Race 6.
Whilst the Formula One style knockout format has been used previously in Supercars and to no detriment, it was the split group-based sessions for Sunday which left many scratching their heads.
The grid is split into two, based on which side of the garage they are. Group A were the cars that live on the right side and Group B the left.
Both groups were essentially, separately given five minutes each to set their fastest lap and then at the end the results would be combined.
Even the commentators concluded that Supercars should just leave the drivers to go out altogether in the same session and get their elbows out as in the past, to wrestle for track position.
What this Formula E style group-based session highlighted, was the impact of a change in track conditions between the two groups. For Race 7, there were only two drivers from Group B that ultimately beat any of the Group A times and they were Whincup and De Pasquale.
There were some surprises though as a result of the group-based qualifying, with Zane Goddard in Group A for Race 8 qualifying being able to provisionally set the third fastest time behind Waters and Mostert.
Following Group B’s running and De Pasquale’s fastest lap which put him up to third, Goddard was relegated to fourth – but still achieved a career best result in qualifying and was to start on the second row of the grid.
Ultimately, it did create some intrigue as to how the results would play out, though in agreement with the pundits and drivers – seeing the drivers wrestle for track position to set their best lap is just as exciting.
The Perth SuperNight will be the next time this format will return, later on in the championship season.