Scott McLaughlin has maintained his 14-point championship lead in the Australia Supercars Championship, with an incredible victory under extreme pressure at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint round at Pukekohe Park in Auckland.
“What a weekend,” sxclaimed McLaughlin. “I’m so pumped. Today was massive for us. We had to answer them (Red Bull Holden Racing) after yesterday’s race, and we did that today. It was a genuine battle between Jamie (Whincup) and I, immense pressure.
“To win in front of my home crowd is special. I haven’t won here since 2013, and to take the Jason Richard Trophy is the icing on the cake. Having JR’s parents on the podium was great too. What a fantastic day. I can’t wait for Newcastle.”
McLaughlin also had a great run in qualifying for Sunday’s race, taking the second position in the shootout, to start alongside 2017 Champion Jamie Whincup with championship rival Shane van Gisbergen third fastest. All three drivers got solid starts, with McLaughlin maintaining his second position behind Whincup
McLaughlin was able to build a gap to Van Gisbergen behind him over the opening laps, before Whincup pitted from the lead on lap six. McLaughlin assumed the race lead as a result, 2.2s in front of Van Gisbergen.
McLaughlin maintained p2 through lap 30, keeping the gap consistent at around 4s to Whincup in the lead. He then assumed the lead on lap 33 as Whincup pitted, with Coulthard up to p3. McLaughlin took his second stop on lap 38 from the lead, rejoining in p5 in front of Whincup after racing him on the exit.
By lap 45, McLaughlin had built a 1.2s lead over Whincup. Van Gisbergen pitted on lap 47, and dropped back to p5 after a slip-up by crew delayed his release.
McLaughlin was now race leader over Whincup by 1.4s. He continued to lead solidly, with a 1.2s gap on lap 58. The gap came down to 0.5s on lap 64 as Whincup began to apply pressure to McLaughlin, however McLaughlin put in an incredible drive to hold Whincup at bay to take a sensational victory.
Van Gisbergen finished second after team mate Whincup let him through to gain more championship points.
“This weekend has been one of the coolest experiences for me,” comented van Gisbergen. “We had five Kiwis in the Top Ten Shootout today as well, I watched the first two of them and saw Andre (Heimgartner) go through and the crowd went nuts, then I even did a little fist bump when Richie (Stanaway) went to the top of the board.
“The passion here is second to none, it almost rivals Bathurst, it’s so awesome, we need to have a race down in the South Island as well. I was told that the crowd numbers are up 10,000 on last year and I’m happy to contribute to that. The controversy just adds to that, good and bad, I’m happy to be part of it and happy to be in the fight.
“Scotty (McLaughlin) and I always race super hard and give each other a car width, or a mirror, nothing more. The battles with him are always on edge, but always fair and awesome. I can’t wait to take the fight to him and enjoy the last couple of races.
“Although, I’m pretty nervous about the championship battle, this is my life and my ambition to win the championship again. I’m more prepared and more experienced than last time. I’ll try to have some good preparation, come back here next week to relax and I’ll just try and enjoy myself .”
McLaughlin leaves New Zealand with a 14 point Championship lead, heading to Newcastle in a few weeks’ time.
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
1. Scott McLaughlin 3656
2. Shane Van Gisbergen 3642 -14
3. Jamie Whincup 3175 -481
4. Craig Lowndes 3117 -539
5. David Reynolds 2918 -738
6. Chaz Mostert 2669 -987
7. Fabian Coulthard 2450 -1206
8. Scott Pye 2410 -1246
9. Rick Kelly 2377 -1279
10. Nick Percat 2221 -1435