Four consecutive weekends at Sydney Motorsport Park has finally come to an end and despite the non-event that was Race 30 on Sunday, the appetite for Supercars after such a long lay off from Townsville in July finds itself sated.
From championships being wrapped up, to epic drives to the front and a taste of the Bathurst 1000 with the co-driver practice session, here are the talking points from the third Sydney SuperNight.
Miraculous Red Bull one-two under lights
Despite a double-stacked pitstop for the Red Bull outfit, which saw Shane van Gisbergen drop to the tail of the top ten, the team claimed a miraculous one-two finish under lights and in greasy conditions in Race 29.
Van Gisbergen triumphed over teammate Jamie Whincup to put one hand on the championship trophy after Saturday. The pair were one of few drivers to start on the supersoft compound tyre and had made gains early.
Whincup lead in the opening stint from van Gisbergen, before a Safety Car was deployed to recover Macauley Jones’ Commodore – which had suffered an engine failure. Upon diving into the pits, the likes of Red Bull and Shell V-Power Racing were forced to double-stack to capitalise on the Safety Car.
Restarting on Lap 10, Cameron Waters was the joker in the pack on the supersoft tyre and was able to charge through from eighth. By Lap 12, the Monster Energy Mustang had passed Whincup for the lead and was followed in a distant second by teammate Jack Le Brocq.
Having squandered in the top ten during the second stint, as Waters romped away in the lead, the second stops for van Gisbergen and Whincup on Laps 42 and 43 respectively saw them switch back to supersoft and begin climbing back up the order.
Waters led again after an excellent Zane Goddard pitted on Lap 44, but behind the Tickford driver there was a quartet of chargers on supersofts on their way. Initially it was Brodie Kostecki and Will Brown who made the assault, clearing Le Brocq on Lap 55 and setting after Waters.
Though when the conditions began to get greasy with some showers on Lap 59, Kostecki found himself demoted to sixth by Chaz Mostert and the two Red Bull Commodores. By Lap 62, van Gisbergen was past Brown also having relegated Mostert earlier and was visibly taking chunks out of Waters’ lead.
Waters cruelly being denied a breakthrough win, following a difficult Sydney Cup as van Gisbergen sealed his fourteenth of the season ahead of teammate Whincup. The Tickford driver however did deny polesitter Anton De Pasquale a spot on the podium.
Title victory for van Gisbergen
There was little doubt that the title was van Gisbergen’s to lose coming into the final weekend at Sydney Motorsport Park and despite the damp squib of a conclusion to Race 30, the shine hasn’t come off the 32-year old’s title victory.
With a mighty 349-point lead over teammate Whincup now, van Gisbergen has claimed his second title in Supercars and the first for Triple Eight since the seven-time champ’s last triumph in 2017.
The Kiwi as well becomes only the fourteenth driver in the history of the sport to have won a second championship, in what has largely been an unchallenged season.
Famously remarking earlier in the year, that if it wasn’t for compatriot and fierce rival Scott McLaughlin leaving Supercars for ventures in the United States – he’d not be revelling in the rich vein of form he’s had.
Tongue in cheek comment aside, van Gisbergen has delivered a consistent season and even during challenging periods such as when he broke his collarbone ahead of the Sandown SuperSprint – showed he was a class above the rest.
That domination of the Sandown weekend in changeable conditions and with that aching collarbone, was a testament of the Kiwi’s greatness. Combined with his usual penchant for hard racing which has left competitors frustrated and broken.
Six straight wins to start the season and then another streak of four consecutive victories across weekends in Darwin and Townsville, highlighted the dominance of van Gisbergen over teammate Whincup.
With only the Bathurst 1000 remaining in 2021, there is little doubt that van Gisbergen and co-driver Garth Tander can deliver back-to-back wins at Mount Panorama. However, their rivals will be hoping to deliver a blow that ought to take momentum with them into 2022.
Team’s championship also secured
The accolades continued to pour in for Triple Eight at Sydney Motorsport Park, as the one-two finish in Race 29 saw the Supercars juggernaut secure their tenth team’s championship in the history of the sport.
It was Red Bull’s first since 2018, having been outclassed by Shell V-Power Racing in the previous two seasons. On this occasion, they beat their fellow Queensland outfit with a 999-point lead coming out of Race 29.
Red Bull have been the dominant team of 2021, largely thanks to the impeccable form of van Gisbergen since the season commenced at the Mount Panorama 500. Collectively, they’ve taken sixteen race wins with an almighty fourteen for the Kiwi.
As well as a plethora of podiums from soon-to-retire and transition into team owner for Red Bull, in the seven-time champion Whincup – who also has had two wins to his name.
Red Bull’s form as well has gone unchecked by rivals in 2021, as even the previous team’s champions in Dick Johnson Racing have been unable to emulate the yearlong consistency seen by their former lineup of Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard.
A key milestone in the end also for departing Triple Eight personnel, with the boss in Roland Dane stepping into retirement after this season and long-time engineer David Cauchi – who is van Gisbergen’s race chief in 2021, moving on to Grove Racing next year as Team Principal.
Race 30 declared with no result
Torrential downpour in Sydney throughout Sunday meant that Race 30 failed to reach any stage of classification, as the Sydney Cup came to a rather damp conclusion.
The 64-lap second leg of the Sydney SuperNight was started under the Safety Car, with polesitter Nick Percat leading the pack away behind the Ford Mustang road vehicle.
Five laps were completed behind the Safety Car before red flag conditions were declared and the cars all called to a halt in pit-lane. In the time after the suspension of play, Supercars bosses were seen deep in discussion over the worsening conditions.
While Driving Standards Advisor in Craig Baird was seen in conversation with several drivers, to get their first-hand insight on what the track conditions were like in those five exploratory laps.
Ultimately at 4:25pm local time, the race had been cancelled and with under 50 percent of the laps being completed – no points were awarded. A disappointing end no doubt for the likes of Percat and Brad Jones Racing, who were eager to race after their earlier triumph in the Top Ten Shootout.
In terms of the Sydney Cup, the non-result meant that van Gisbergen was declared the winner and received the $25,000 prize ahead of De Pasquale and Whincup – who ended up tied with 73-points in arrears of the Kiwi.
Brown for Erebus capped off his successful Sydney stint in fourth and 157-points behind van Gisbergen, accumulating two podiums as well as a maiden Supercars win during the previous weekend.
Next up: Bathurst
And just like that, four consecutive weekends of racing at Sydney Motorsport Park concludes and we eagerly anticipate the final event of the 2021 Supercars championship in the blue ribband Bathurst 1000.
With only a weekend off in between before the series descends upon the fabled Mount Panorama, only a short rest will be afforded before the teams and drivers tackle Bathurst. Also, with no championship in play now, the pressure will be off for many outfits in just going out and fighting for the Peter Brock Trophy.
Co-drivers were given a single 40-minute practice session during this final Sydney SuperNight to get to grips with their machinery, which for four of the top five drivers was the case – given that they have new pairings for 2021.
Behind rookie Matthew Payne, who won’t be contesting the Bathurst 1000 this year, it was the seasoned Lee Holdsworth in the Appliances Online Commodore that was quickest. Together with Mostert, this combination for Walkinshaw Andretti United is definitely one of the contenders for the top gong.
Without taking too much away from that session, it won’t telling until the first practice outing on the Thursday ahead of the Bathurst 1000, that a proper gauge can be taken of who will be where in the build up to the Great Race of 2021.