Supercars enjoyed its annual winter vacation, escaping the cold of the southern states of Australia to the Northern Territory for yet another eventful Darwin Triple Crown at Hidden Valley Raceway.
Acknowledged as the official Indigenous Round for the category, with beautifully presented liveries across the grid from various Indigenous artists, Darwin once again put on a show throughout its three sprint races.
From a Safety Car setting up a grandstand finish, to the reigning champion having an off weekend, here are the talking points from the Darwin Triple Crown.
Safety Car sets up thrilling Race 18 finish
Hailed as possibly one of the best finishes to a Supercars sprint race, Chaz Mostert denied Anton De Pasquale for a fourth win of the season, taking a thrilling victory in the final race of the Darwin weekend.
Qualifying sixth, the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner made an impossible gamble to stop early on Lap 9, only for two tyres. Both Shell V-Power cars who started on the front-row were able to take four tyres, while Shane van Gisbergen changed three.
Mostert had track position over Anton De Pasquale and 500 race veteran Will Davison, when the Safety Car was triggered thanks to an incident between Garry Jacobson and rookie wildcard Zak Best at the rear of the field.
Best had made a dive at Turn 5, though Jacobson wasn’t going to yield going into Turn 6 having had the inside line and escorting the Tickford rookie right off into the valley. The Safety Car was brought out so the Mustang could be recovered, but also re-energised the race by compressing the field.
It was thought that Mostert on older tyres would have the disadvantage, though the laps under the Safety Car actually benefitted the 30-year old in that it preserved the life of the ailing Dunlop rubber.
The race restarted on Lap 30, as De Pasquale threw everything at the Mobil 1 Optus Commodore but to no avail. Mostert was able to park
the car wherever the Shell V-Power Mustang attacked, in a stunning display of defence. An error at the final corner for De Pasquale gave Mostert the reprieve he needed to win Race 18 in sensational fashion.
Cameron Waters rounded out the top three, backing up his Race 17 win earlier in the day while van Gisbergen came to blows with Davison on the restart and ended up with power steering damage and a 15-second time penalty.
De Pasquale wins the Triple Crown
With all the chaos, it was easy to overlook that De Pasquale earnt the round victory in Darwin, which meant the Triple Crown win also after the stipulations around what constitutes the win were changed in 2020.
Previously, one had to win both races and get pole position in Top 10 Shootout to claim the Triple Crown, which De Pasquale’s predecessor
Scott McLaughlin did in 2019 and became the only driver having achieved it in that way.
However, in 2020, with the shift towards a trio of sprint races to comprise the weekend – the Triple Crown was awarded to the driver with the most round points at the end of the event.
De Pasquale opened his Darwin account with a sensational win in Race 16, out-muscling teammate polesitter Davison in the opening laps. Having had the superior race pace, the 26-year was comfortably able to make his mandatory pit-stop and retake the lead after van Gisbergen made a three-tyre stop.
The red flag curtailed Race 17, due to an incident involving James Courtney, Scott Pye and Thomas Randle, saw De Pasquale from fifth just miss out on a podium to van Gisbergen while Race 18 tested the youngster in the dying stages – ultimately coming up short against Mostert.
Regardless, it was a strong weekend for De Pasquale who miraculously hadn’t won a race in 2022 until Race 16. Closing the gap on van Gisbergen as well would’ve buoyed the Shell V-Power outfit, whom took the lead from Red Bull in the team’s championship.
Van Gisbergen’s winless weekend
Despite his dominance in 2022, van Gisbergen finally had an off weekend at the Darwin Triple Crown, where for the first time all season; he failed to win a single race across the event.
This was paired with the upturn in form from the Ford teams, of whom Shell V-Power Racing took a sensational one-two finish in the opening 38-lap stanza. De Pasquale muscled his way to beat teammate Davison, while van Gisbergen’s slow pit-stop for a three-tyre strategy saw him only third.
Starting fourth again for Race 17, van Gisbergen fell into a fight with De Pasquale while polesitter Waters and Davison paraded off into the distance. The Kiwi was able to hold off the Shell V-Power Mustang for the final spot on the podium.
Race 18 was far more eventful for the two-time Supercars champion, having recorded his worst result of the season so far – classified in 21st. This was thanks a Safety Car restart clash with Davison on the exit of the Turn 1 hairpin.
Van Gisbergen was in contention, along with both Shell V-Power Mustangs for the win with race leader Mostert on an ailing set of Dunlop tyres. The 33-year old was bold and made a dive on Davison in third, only to escort the Ford driver wide and pick up steering damage of his own.
Tumbling down the order in the subsequent laps, Race Control also hit the championship leader with a 15-second time penalty for the hit on Davison. Van Gisbergen also lamented the new tyre pressure rules saying ‘you can’t pass’, as the lead in the standings are cut to 214-points.
Mostert’s Race 16 disqualification
While Mostert achieved a redeeming victory in Race 18, the early part of his weekend was marred in controversy having been excluded
from Race 16’s results due to a breach of the technical regulations.
The fourth-place result was stripped from Walkinshaw Andretti United, due to the team having an air blower inserted in the front-bumper. This was found to have been in breach of D8.1.8, despite Mostert having reporting an issue with the car on his out-lap before the race.
Regulations dictate that cars are not allowed to be cooled in that manner before the start of the race. WAU then later appealed the punishment, only to have that rejected due to “the appropriate paperwork was never received,” according to a Motorsport Australia
This was added to Mostert also having been disqualified from Practice 2 on Friday, for a tyre pressure breach – on the weekend Supercars had introduced new rules around minimum tyre pressures and the banning of ‘baking’ the Dunlop rubber.
It is perhaps the severity of the penalty that has shocked some, though it was swiftly reiterated during the broadcast about the black and white nature of the technical regulations and in fact it is a cost-cutting measure.
At the end of the day, it cost Mostert a crucial 80-points which would still see him in fifth ahead of David Reynolds. Though following his Race 18 win, the two-time Bathurst 1000 winner has a 474-point deficit to points leader van Gisbergen.
Pukekohe and Sandown confirmed
It was pleasant to have confirmation that Supercars will be still committed to the upcoming New Zealand and Sandown rounds, despite recent speculation that they both could be ditched in order to shorten the season.
Having not been able to make the trip to Pukekohe for the past two seasons due to the restrictions imposed by the global pandemic, it looked as if the enormous freight cost associated with the travel, this time would mean another year without a race across The Ditch.
However, Supercars were able to announce at the Darwin Triple Crown that tickets for both the Pukekohe and Sandown SuperSprints would be going on sale this week. With these two rounds confirmed, it does guarantee 12 events for 2022 which is the minimum required by the broadcast agreement.
Whilst the Adelaide 500 is eagerly anticipated to return as the season finale in December, following Labor’s successful state election in South Australia, it is yet to be officially confirmed. Having the 12 rounds secured means should the street race not go ahead, there will still be a championship in terms of the broadcast deal.