Rick Kelly took the opportunity and grabbed a win at Winton Raceway, Victoria, for Nissan Motorsport, just days after the marquee announced withdrawing their factory support from the Australia Supercars Championship. Second home was the Commodore of Scott Pye followed by the first Kiwi home Shane van Gisbergen.
“We thought we were making good inroads with the car in practice this morning but it wasn’t actually that good,” commented van Gisbergen. “In the race, we started from 14th and we just didn’t have the best pace at the start. Once people started to pit, we stayed out and started to drive up to the next car and then the next one, so that we had good pace in clear air.
“We just ran really long into the race and we were eventually faster than the cars who had new tyres. It shows it was the correct strategy, we probably wouldn’t have chosen that strategy if we started higher up. We did make a big change before the race so we made some good improvements but we need to start better tomorrow.”
Shell V-Power Racing’s Scott McLaughlin (5th) followed home team mate Fabian Coulthard (4th) after leading most of the race until a safety-car period.
After topping the timesheets in final practice and qualifying side-by-side in a front row lockout, Race 13 of the Championship started strongly for McLaughlin who got off the start well, leading the field into turn one. Coulthard had a slow start, falling back into fourth place behind the Nissans of Caruso and Kelly for the opening stint of the race. McLaughlin took his first stop on lap seven, rejoining the race as the first of those who’d stopped and the effective race leader.
Coulthard took service one lap later, slotting in two positions behind McLaughlin in a net third place. With over 30 laps of racing left to the flag, both drivers were coached by their engineers to look after their tyres, trying to ensure they had something in reserve should they need it later in the race. Other cars ran long first stints, looking for a tyre gain late in the race. McLaughlin and Coulthard continued to race well, keeping the cars straight to look after their Super Soft rubber.
Unfortunately a late race Safety Car negated the six-second gap that McLaughlin had built in the lead of the race, with Coulthard pushed into fourth place by those on fresher tyres. The post SC restart saw McLaughlin head into turn one with too little heat in his tyres, run wide and then be pushed into the dirt – dropping from first to fifth as a result, right behind Coulthard. They then ran to the flag nose-to-tail, with Coulthard fourth and McLaughlin fifth.
“That little error at the end there cost us,” commented McLaughlin. “I just didn’t have enough temperature in the surface of the tyre at the restart, so the win got away from us. That was unfortunate, but we still took a big bag of points and the positive is that we now lead the Teams’ Championship for the first time this year. We’ve got a fast car, and we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”
Shell V-Power Racing now leads the Teams’ title by 36 points over Triple Eight. McLaughlin has maintained his Championship lead, now 140 points over van Gisbergen. Tomorrow will see a 20-minute qualifying session, with a 200km race in the afternoon.
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
1. Scott McLaughlin 1358
2. Shane Van Gisbergen 1218
3. Craig Lowndes 1119
4. David Reynolds 1109
5. Jamie Whincup 1033
6. Scott Pye 1012
7. James Courtney 948
8. Fabian Coulthard 908
9. Chaz Mostert 908
10. Tim Slade 896
TEAMS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
1. Shell V-Power Racing Team 2287
2. Triple Eight Race Engineering (Whincup/SVG) 2251
3. Walkinshaw Andretti United 1960
4. Tickford Racing (Mostert/Winterbottom) 1753
5. Brad Jones Racing 1722
6. Erebus Motorsport 1672
7. Nissan Motorsport (Kelly/Heimgartner) 1473
8. Garry Rogers Motorsport 1214
9. NISMO (Caruso/De Silvestro) 1205
10. Triple Eight Race Engineering (Lowndes) 1119