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Opinion

Talking Points from Supercars' Melbourne 400

Chaz Mostert drives during the 2021 Bathurst 1000. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
11th April, 2022
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It has been a whirlwind three years since Supercars last raced at Albert Park in support of the Australian Grand Prix, with the last time they hit the track to qualify was during that fateful 2020 event that was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak in the Formula One paddock.

The Melbourne 400 returned in all its glory, utilising the modified track layout which yielded faster and more exciting racing. From some overtaking masterclasses from the reigning champion, to Formula One’s best sampling the Supercars, here are the Melbourne 400 talking points.

Mostert takes two, SVG puts on overtaking show 

It was an electric start for the reigning Bathurst 1000 champion in Chaz Mostert in Race 6, bolting from third on the grid to begin pressuring pole sitter Reynolds through the opening laps.

With the van Gisbergen mantra of hard racing from Symmons Plains very much in mind, Mostert got his elbows out at the final corner and pushed the Penrite Mustang as wide as legally possible, to usurp the lead of the race.

Walkinshaw Andretti United teammate Nick Percat was also making moves and threatened the top three, when in the early phase of the race the Shell V-Power Mustangs were at the pointy end of the field.

A mandatory pit-stop was required and Shell V-Power Racing elected for the undercut to get themselves ahead of Mostert. This was only temporary, as the Mobil 1 Optus Commodore clawed its way back into the lead and in fact both Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale dropped out of the top fifteen.

All while van Gisbergen from the rear of the grid, put on an overtaking masterclass around the new Albert Park layout, picking off car after car to earn himself a surprise finish on the podium.

Mostert got the elbows out in Race 9 against van Gisbergen, with the pair overcutting the Shell V-Power cars that started on the front-row. The 30-year old on his birthday, was ahead of the Red Bull Commodore after the pit-stop cycle and then pressured the Kiwi in defence into locking up.

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The Mobil 1 Optus Commodore then romped to a third win of the season, with a five-second gap to the pole sitter Davison behind. Both Mostert and van Gisbergen splitting the wins across the four races in the Melbourne 400.

Chaz Mostert.

Chaz Mostert drives during the 2021 Bathurst 1000. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Strong weekend for Grove Racing 

While Reynolds’ Race 6 pole position was safe thanks to the qualifying session being red flagged and subsequently called off, the pace of the Penrite Mustangs throughout the Melbourne 400 weekend appears to have been genuine.

Reynolds secured podiums in the first two races of the weekend, with a pair of second placings while full-time returnee and reigning Bathurst 1000 champion Lee Holdsworth also picked up his first podium in Race 7.

The second of the Penrite Mustangs benefitted from a last corner incident between James Courtney and Holdsworth’s 2021 co-driver in Mostert – to which the latter was given a post-race drive through penalty. Holdsworth expressed shock at a first podium with his new team at Grove Racing, having started the 20-lap race down in a lowly fifteenth.

Race 8 saw Reynolds make an excellent start from fourth to pinch a position from van Gisbergen, and then split the two Shell V-Power cars in the lead. The Penrite Mustang pitted at the end of Lap 6, after losing the lead to van Gisbergen and re-joined the race behind Davison.

A nice battle ensued between the 2017 Bathurst 1000 champion and De Pasquale through the first sector, with the Shell V-Power Mustang muscling its way past Reynolds. On the following lap, De Pasquale got bowled wide by van Gisbergen on his out-lap which allowed Reynolds to capitalise. Another podium racked up in third, coming in behind Davison who held onto second.

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Apart from Race 9, Reynolds qualified inside the top five all weekend being the second fastest if not the quickest Mustang in the field during qualifying. A positive turnaround for the team which we saw glimpses of in Tasmania, in the first year of the Grove family running independently after their full takeover from the Kellys.

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F1 stars sample the Supercar 

The Australian Grand Prix is always a melting pot for motorsport in Australia, bringing Formula One every year together with some of the best that this country has to offer in terms of racing.

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Having not had that luxury for the past two years, was at least rewarded with Formula One heavyweights putting a roof over their heads and turning the wheel of the Supercars, as part of a test on Thursday evening.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso through mutual sponsor Castrol was able to sample Randle’s Tickford Mustang, while two-time race winner Sergio Perez traded his Red Bull F1 car for Feeney’s Red Bull Commodore Supercar.

It is always great when Supercars gets exposure on the international motorsport scene and for someone as Alonso, who’s spent time between leaving McLaren in 2018 to return to Formula One with Alpine in 2021 racing at Dakar and in Sportscars – it leaves the imagination to wonder if the Spaniard will one day suit up for a Bathurst 1000.

Alonso, who demonstrated his rallying skills in the grass at Turn 1 during the run, compared the Mustang Supercar a cross ‘between GT3 and NASCAR.’

Perez was too glowing in his experience of the Triple Eight car saying, “It is really good fun; the amount of kerb you’re able to take, you’re limited with that in F1.”

If one day Supercars is graced with a Formula One driver co-driving or as a wildcard, then one only hopes that it isn’t as dismal a tenure as the outspoken 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve had in 2012, subbing for an injured Greg Murphy.

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Charles Leclerc of Ferrari celebrates during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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Turn 5 causes carnage

The new high-speed nature of the Albert Park Grand Prix circuit has seen lap times for the Supercars get quicker, but also has brought with it the peril of finding the wall on the outside of the reprofiled Turn 5.

A red flag brought a premature end to the first of two quickfire qualifying sessions on Thursday, with Jake Kostecki losing the rear of his Tickford Mustang and slapping the outside wall at Turn 5 with force.

There were lengthy repairs required, with question marks over the safety of that corner ahead of Formula One yet to come. The crash ultimately did rule out Kostecki from qualifying for the first two races of the weekend.

Rookie Thomas Randle, who last turned a wheel around Albert Park in an S5000 car also had his own moment at Turn 5, spinning the car on exit but thankfully avoiding the barrier. Because the entry into the corner is at such high-speed, it was a heart-in-mouth moment when another car blazed onto the scene with the Castrol Mustang having been parked sideways.

Broc Feeney, who’d never raced at Albert Park until this weekend also found the Tecpro barriers at Turn 5 during the opening practice session.

For Race 6 thanks to the red flag, the order was shaken up with David Reynolds taking a shock pole for Grove Racing and championship leader Shane van Gisbergen failing to set a lap time and at the rear of the field.

Changes were ultimately made ahead of Friday running, with the FIA shortening the Tecpro by 20 metres to ensure safety at that corner for the remainder of the weekend.

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Luckless Davison, winless Davison 

The two-time Bathurst 1000 champion can’t seem to get a break when it comes to ending a winless streak that dates to 2016 and what was his famous win at the Great Race with Jonathon Webb.

Having lost a plum drive in 2020 with the now defunct Milwaukee Racing but then his patience being rewarded with the prized seat of three-time Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin in 2021 at Dick Johnson Racing, Davison was expected to be in the winner’s circle once again.

Not the case. Throughout 2021, the 39-year old racked up the podiums though was always behind the likes of the peerless van Gisbergen and his teammate De Pasquale – who did take until the back half of the season to click with his Shell V-Power Mustang.

A driver of Davison’s experience and stature has simply been unable to capitalise on the opportunities for wins and surely it can’t be all down to car performance in the races. This was highlighted at Albert Park, with the veteran claiming a pair of poles and unable to convert them.

In Race 7 Davison was unfortunate to tangle with Cameron Waters and ended up the gravel, after of course getting hunted down by van Gisbergen and passed by.

He was again rounded up by the Kiwi in Race 8 and was left second best, before losing pole in Race 9 when Mostert overcut he and teammate De Pasquale in the pit-stop phase. A late tyre failure for van Gisbergen though meant that Davison did snare the runner’s up trophy again.

The question remains though, when can Davison break this drought in what is one of the top three cars on the grid? The championship already is favouring van Gisbergen, who leaves Melbourne with a 144-point lead over De Pasquale and with Davison adrift in fourth by 181-points – the lead could very quickly slip away.

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