For the second year in a row, the IndyCar Series took on the streets of Nashville, running a downtown circuit around Nissan Stadium and…
Same track, but it was a different story in Far North Queensland for the Supercars championship, as we switched back to the exciting SuperSprint format at the Reid Park circuit.
The shorter races brought with it some varied results, as there was a fightback from the Ford teams and even another close battle between the Red Bull teammates. Here are the talking points from the Townsville SuperSprint.
Waters leads Ford fightback
After a difficult outing at the Townsville 500 a week ago, leading Ford squads in Dick Johnson Racing and Tickford found themselves at the fore in the SuperSprint format at Reid Park a week later.
Cameron Waters stunned with his second victory of the season in Race 17, usurping pole sitter Anton De Pasquale following the compulsory pit-stops. This snapped the most recent winning streak of championship leader Shane van Gisbergen and his Red Bull team of the last four races.
The 26-year old joined De Pasquale on the front-row of the grid following the Top-10 Shootout and settled into second, following a very aggressive start from he and Jamie Whincup from fourth.
Lap 16 saw the Monster Energy Mustang take its compulsory stop, with the Shell V-Power Mustang having to follow suit on the following lap to avoid the undercut. Though upon De Pasquale exiting the pits, Waters on warmer tyres was able to make the race winning move going into Turn 2.
The pair both stayed within touching distance, as a rampart Whincup began to pressure De Pasquale in the closing stages on the 39-lap sprint. The seven-time champion was hit by a 15-second penalty for a pit-lane speeding infringement, thus was forced to make as many gains as he could before taking the penalty.
Whincup in fact, passed De Pasquale on Lap 31 at Turn 11 for second on track. The penalty however dropped him to seventh, while an improved Chaz Mostert and Walkinshaw Andretti from a week ago, completed the podium with a welcome third.
A season best result came for Tim Slade and the Blanchard Racing Team also, benefitting from the Whincup penalty at the end – but also avoided early drama that befell others, as he started down in nineteenth. Fourth came as the Ford squad best result, after struggling to recapture the form that saw them star at the Mount Panorama 500 at the start of the season.
Red Bull stung by penalties
If all went the way of the bulls in Townsville last week, it was the complete opposite during Race 17 this week. Not one, but both Triple Eight cars were hit with 15-second time penalties for separate incidents in a race to forget.
Championship leader van Gisbergen was quoted pre-race to be keen on getting the elbows out and that was exactly what the Kiwi did starting from sixth. After some stunning moves in the early phase of the race, he did get a little too close with Brodie Kostecki at the final corner – putting the Erebus Commodore out into the pit-lane wall on the outside.
The consensus was that whilst van Gisbergen’s pass on Kostecki did not seem as aggressive as the latter’s earlier botched move on Todd Hazelwood – if one was to be penalised, then so was the other. Not to mention too that the 2016-Supercars champion was put behind earlier on that lap by Kostecki at Turn 2.
Kostecki was hit with his own 15-second time penalty for pushing Hazelwood off at Turn 13, though the Boost Mobile Commodore ended up with steering damage after the side of van Gisbergen’s car made contact with his.
Having served the penalty in the pit-stops, van Gisbergen did end up recovering to sixth and minimise the loss of points in the championship. While Whincup, who was vying for the win with the leading group of De Pasquale and Waters, was stung for speeding at pit-entry when he pitted behind the Monster Energy Mustang.
A cheeky error from the seven-time champion saw him slammed with 15-seconds as well, though after the pit-stop meant that it would be added to his finishing time post-race. So despite finishing second on-track after a late move on De Pasquale, Whincup was demoted to fifth.
Van Gisbergen beats Whincup again
Saturday may have been a disaster for the Red Bull squad, but they bounced back for Race 18 to claim another one-two finish and also locked horns again in an intense battle for the lead.
Whincup beat van Gisbergen for pole position by the slenderest of margins, being 0.06-seconds. The seven-time champion then made the better start and led for the opening stint of the 39-lap race.
It was in the pit-lane where the race defining call was made, as Whincup on Lap 16 opted for three new tyres in his compulsory pit-stop – whilst van Gisbergen took only two on the following lap.
This resulted in the Kiwi assuming the effective race lead, with the likes of Nick Percat ahead yet to pit. Whincup then began hounding his teammate and was able to chase him on Lap 21 till Turn 13, where van Gisbergen was able to block his fellow Red Bull Commodore.
With a bit of push and shove, van Gisbergen again fended off Whincup on Lap 24 to retain the lead, putting on an entertaining battle which kept to the confines of the track. Despite some nervous faces inside the Triple Eight garage.
Van Gisbergen crossed the line with a 4.5-second advantage over Whincup, who was again denied a record thirteenth win in Townsville. The pair finishing ahead of an excellent Mostert, who recorded another podium finish and kept a late charge from Will Davison.
Despite it appearing as if it would go awry, both drivers displayed their professionalism as champions when racing wheel-to-wheel. Something seldom seen across most motorsport and especially between teammates.
Waters dukes it out with van Gisbergen in Race 19
The 26-year old Victorian had pole position for the final race of the weekend, starting on the front-row with Race 18 winner van Gisbergen. Waters had led the first five laps of the race, before succumbing to the pressure of the Red Bull Commodore at Turn 12.
Behind the leaders, trouble was brewing which eventually led to the end of the Safety Car drought at Townsville. Slade and Macauley Jones from a career best qualifying of eighth both pitted early for an aggressive strategy and found themselves racing each other.
Slade was up twentieth on the grid and was holding off Jones in the Coca-Cola Commodore, before the latter understeered at Turn 10 and clouted the outside wall. Damage then unfortunately halted Jones’ race at Turn 11 and deployed was the Safety Car.
This triggered a series of pit-stops which saw van Gisbergen pit from the lead, however Waters had not. The Safety Car had not yet left the pit-lane at the time of the initial stops, which greatly benefitted Waters, Hazelwood and Percat.
A strategic masterstroke from the Tickford crew then saw Waters retake the lead ahead of Davison and van Gisbergen who was an effective third. This set up the battle to come when the race restarted on Lap 24.
It wasn’t long before Davison was dispatched by van Gisbergen, when the Shell V-Power Mustang went wide at Turn 6 before the Kiwi passed the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner at Turn 10.
Van Gisbergen then ramped up his assault on the leading Monster Energy Mustang, repeatedly going for the pass into Turn 13. Waters continued to deny the aggression from van Gisbergen for the remainder of the race – evoking their epic battle from last year’s Bathurst 1000.
Less than a second separated Waters from van Gisbergen, as the pole sitter claimed his second win of the weekend and a handy boost of points in the championship. Which the Kiwi continues to lead by 276-points over Whincup, with now Waters up to third with a 412-point deficit.
Returning to Queensland Raceway
With Covid-19 continuing to impact Greater Sydney and now having thrown Victoria into a fifth lockdown, the Supercars calendar finds itself in a precarious position as to what will happen next.
Confirmation came ahead of the Townsville SuperSprint that the Sydney SuperNight which was scheduled for August 20-22, has now been postponed until a later date. Given the extended lockdown in Greater Sydney, it looks near impossible for the event to go ahead until the end of the season.
Instead of Eastern Creek, Supercars will remain in Queensland and return to Queensland Raceway in Ipswich – which hasn’t been seen on the calendar since 2019. The August 20-22 dates will be when it goes ahead.
Queensland Raceway itself has been in the news lately, following the falling through of a deal to sell off the facility to Tony Quinn, who owns a majority stake in Triple Eight as well as New Zealand circuits such as Hampton Downs.
Supercars is required to hold a minimum of twelve rounds in its championship season and the next event at Queensland Raceway will be the eighth. The next scheduled events at Perth on September 11-12 and then the blue ribband Bathurst 1000 on October 7-10 will bring the total to ten.
Though there are question marks now surrounding travel to Western Australia and even New Zealand for the Auckland SuperSprint on November 6-7. Whilst events at Sydney Motorsport Park and Winton remain benched.
The series is set to conclude on the streets of the Surfers Paradise for the Gold Coast 500 on December 5.
It remains to be seen also, whether Victorian teams will be allowed to return home between this break in rounds before the Ipswich SuperSprint.