Anyone who thinks sport and politics shouldn’t mix has clearly never attended their local cricket club’s annual general meeting.
After the long 104-day wait since the Townsville SuperSprint in July, Supercars racing finally got back underway at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Raising the curtain on four consecutive weekends of racing at the Western Sydney circuit, the Sydney SuperNight saw some exciting racing and a return to form for some drivers and teams.
Between emulating a former champion with impressive qualifying speed, to just the awesome feeling of seeing racing return – here are the talking points from the Sydney SuperNight.
De Pasquale dominates under lights
Under the new permanent lighting towers around the circuit, it was a sight for sore eyes to see the Supercars shimmering through Saturday night. There was one car that shimmered brighter than others and that was Anton De Pasquale.
Sweeping the Friday practice sessions and then a mighty half-a-second clear of Erebus’ Will Brown in the Top-Ten Shootout, De Pasquale went on to achieve a comprehensive third win of his career by four seconds.
The 26-year old saw off the challenge of Brown heading into Turn 1, while the Erebus Commodore found Will Davison in the sister Shell V-Power Mustang at Turn 3. The two-time Bathurst 1000 winner coming out worse in that battle.
Brown did manage to stay in pursuit of the leading Mustang, before Shane van Gisbergen who’d made early ground was able to pass him on Lap 14 ahead of the pit-stops. De Pasquale and Brown both made their compulsory tyre changes on the following lap.
The pit-stop came worse off for Erebus however, with Brown electing to take four tyres and the stop itself lasting 16-seconds. This allowed De Pasquale to clear his closest competitors and set about to sealing the win.
For the rest of the podium places, the battle was on and championship leader van Gisbergen secured second. Behind though, Brodie Kostecki put his Erebus into third, scrapping with Nick Percat and teammate Brown who recovered to fifth.
Davison dudded by electrical gremlin
The wait for Davison’s drought breaking victory which dates back to the 2016 Bathurst 1000, continues having been cruelled by a electrical gremlin during Sunday’s Race 20.
When pole-sitting teammate De Pasquale bogged down at the start of the 32-lap sprint, Davison vaulted into the lead and looked comfortable in the opening stint.
It was reported that from the third lap that the veteran had lost the shift lights on his dashboard, as well as the speedometer which was crucial especially when pitting and ensuring you’re below the mandated pit-lane limit.
The Shell V-Power squad sought to rectify the problem during the compulsory pit-stop on Lap 15, effectively restarting the electronics while the car was stationary. The reigning team’s champions even switched their strategy to fit four tyres instead of the expected three, to buy time to execute the reboot.
However, the slow crawl into the pits and the extended stop, meant that van Gisbergen who started sixth had made the necessary gains to get out of the pits ahead of Davison. Even with four fresh tyres, the 39-year old couldn’t make a challenge to the Red Bull Commodore.
De Pasquale, who pitted on Lap 8 to try and undercut the leaders following his poor start, was able to baulk van Gisbergen for a short period of time to allow Davison benefit. Though it was a moot cause as the championship leader claimed his twelfth win of the season by 2 seconds.
Qualifying sweep for Anton too
It was one of those spine-tingling moments when during the Sunday broadcast, that commentator and Supercars legend Mark Skaife remarked something along the lines of ‘if his name wasn’t on the car, you’d think that was Scott McLaughlin.’
This was in relation to the masterful qualifying laps executed by De Pasquale across the weekend, having swept the two short sessions on Sunday for back-to-back pole positions to add to the fastest lap in the Top-Ten Shootout.
Half-a-second clear of Brown in the Shootout, De Pasquale was a whopping 0.656-seconds clear of teammate Davison in second for qualifying ahead of Race 21. Then 0.392 ahead of the Erebus rookie once again for Race 22’s qualification.
The comparison to three-time Supercars champion McLaughlin, who of course was De Pasquale’s predecessor was initially unfair during the early portion of the season – as the Victorian settled into his new team.
However, his qualifying display at Sydney Motorsport Park this weekend emulated those wild, oversteering fast laps that the Kiwi achieved on 76 occasions during his career. Which hopefully is a sign of positive things to come in 2022.
Test sessions for the rest
An advantage of racing at the same circuit for four straight weekends, is that teams and drivers can use this time to gather important information about their cars and improve performance.
For the outfits that rolled out this weekend and struggled, this will be a crucial factor heading into the second Sydney SuperNight to better their results from the opening round.
Tickford were the prime candidates that left many scratching their heads, as to where their pace had disappeared to – especially for three-time 2021 race winner Cameron Waters, who’s best result in the weekend was sixth.
Tyre troubles throughout 2021 have been an issue for the Campbellfield Ford squad and it looked at its worse across the three cars this weekend.
Also only having a best result of sixth during the weekend was Chaz Mostert and Walkinshaw Andretti United, who’ll hope to gain more speed heading into the consecutive events at Sydney Motorsport Park.
If we are to truly have varied racing across the four weekends, then it’ll be vital to see these other teams and drivers to gain knowledge and translate that into results in the remaining eight races before the season-ending Bathurst 1000.
It’s good to be back racing
Even though there could be gripes about racing at the same variant of circuit for four consecutive weeks and across eleven individual races, the feeling is overall joyous to finally see the Supercars championship back on track.
It is exciting as well to see that Supercars have incentivised the Sydney smorgasbord with its mini championship, branded the Sydney Cup. As well as a handsome cash prize, up for grabs for the driver who accumulates the most points across the four rounds.
With his wins in Races 20 and 22, De Pasquale is in a good position for this accolade however having been excluded from the result of Race 21 for the team putting one of teammate Davison’s tyres on his car – it halted what could’ve been a perfect 300-point weekend.
Given that the Supercars title itself looks as good as being in van Gisbergen’s back pocket for 2021, following his masterful displays earlier in the year – the Sydney Cup at least gives the neutrals something to look forward too.
Nevertheless, seeing a return to form for the Shell V-Power team and the emergence of De Pasquale, as well as Erebus having a quick pair of cars are all welcome sights – following such a long lay off for Australia’s premier touring car category.