Scott McLaughlin completed the clean sweep of two poles and two race wins at Philip Island over the weekend, a welcome result for many of us who were half expecting a Triple Eight whitewash after Tasmania 2016 and Philip Island last year. It was great to see McLaughlin and GRM back to their very best after a difficult and win-less 2015 and boy did they do it in style. Bar a few moments towards the end of the first race when Whincup looked to be catching, the #33 Volvo was in complete control of the field from start to finish and leaving Philip Island just 15 points off the championship lead is a just reward for the incredible effort made by everyone at GRM. The weekend was full of great surprises and talking points across both days of racing and you can find a few of them in the paragraphs below, barring Scott McLaughlin and Volvo which I addressed in my post from Saturday.
Consistent results for Frosty
Many people were writing off Mark Winterbottom’s title defence before it even started this season and despite not yet bagging a race victory after a couple of pole positions, six top ten finishes including two podiums from the fist seven races of the season Winterbottom leaves Philip Island just 24 points of the championship lead in 3rd place. His fellow PRA teammates haven’t had the best of luck (see my next point) but Frosty has done an admirable job in keeping his nose clean and out of trouble and his sensible yet opportunistic move on Whincup in race seven was a reminder that he’s lost none of his racing edge since taking the title in Sydney last season.
Winterbottom won both Saturday races in Barbagallo last season, the round which marked the start of PRA’s incredible run of consistent race victories and podiums which stretched all the way to Bathurst near the end of the season. Whilst Winterbottom may not have yet had the fastest package on race day his sheer consistency could yet carry him to another V8 Supercars title. Of course, there’s still plenty of races left to go but given how strong PRA were in Perth last season I wouldn’t bet against more top five finishes for Frosty.
The rest of the PRA stable had some difficulties
Whilst the #1 has enjoyed a successful start to its title defence, its fair to say that Philip Island showed that Mostert and Waters experienced their fair share of bad luck and difficulties over the course of the weekend. It’s hard to believe that given he has often consistently run inside the top ten, Mostert’s podium finish in race two at the Clipsal 500 remains his only top four finish of the season and he was unlucky to experience a tyre blow out robbing him of a certain podium on Saturday. Sunday would have no doubt been at least a top five finish for the #55 had Mostert not been turned around by Tander/Davison midway through lap one and his excellent recovery drive to 8th place by the checkered flag showed that in the right hands the PRA Falcons are amongst the fastest cars in the field.
Moving over to the final garage in the main PRA stable, and you’d find it hard to believe that before race five at Symmons Plains two weeks ago Cam Waters was in the championship’s top five, and was the highest placed PRA Falcon on the leaderboard. Through no fault of his own, mechanical gremlins in Tasmania saw the #6 eventually retire after slipping on it’s own oil down at the hairpin however Waters struggled all the way through the Philip Island weekend coming home in 18th and 23rd place.
Of course, in his rookie season bad weekends are to be expected and we’ve seen more than enough strong performances from Waters to suggest that Philip Island was merely a one off, but it just goes to show how competitive V8 Supercar racing is, when in three races you can fall from 4th to 18th in the championship table. I’m sure both Mostert and Waters will be back at the front in Perth where PRA’s season really began to get going last year.
Nissan back on the pace
Philip Island was a welcome return to the top half of the field for Nissan who struggled in Tasmania. The three Alitmas of Caruso, Rick Kelly and Todd Kelly consistetly ran inside the top 12 cars for the majority of laps over the course of the weekend and Caruso was unfortunate to get poor start in race one, something which surely robbed him of a top ten finish.
A stronger getaway in race two gave Caruso, who looks to be Nissan’s best chance of a race victory this season a much better chance to show their true pace and he fought a close race with Lowndes to bring the Nismo Altima home in 6th place. Caruso moves back up to 7th in the championship, just two points ahead of Garth Tander and with Rick Kelly’s strong form on Saturday in Perth last year I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one Nissan in the top ten again at Barbagallo.
Silly errors for Whincup on a difficult weekend for Triple Eight
Whincup has made a couple of uncharacteristic errors which has cost the #88 certain podiums and big points in the last couple of rounds. The six time champion beached his Red Bull Commodore in the gravel at the hairpin in Tasmania a couple of weeks back after exiting the pits on cold tyres and this weekend ran wide coming out of the final turn to gift podiums to rivals PRA and the impressive DJR Team Penske.
Of course, the sheer pace and dominance of Triple Eight and Whincup when they are on song ensures that JW still leaves Philip Island as the championship leader after a valiant drive to 2nd on Saturday and we all know that Triple Eight can never be discounted. Compared to his stunning pace in Tassie, SVG had a more subdued weekend at Philip Island. After coming home 4th in race one on Saturday SVG fell backwards in his penultimate stint on Sunday until a wise call to pit for new tyres under the safety car saw him climb back up through the field to 10th by the checkered flag.
A 6th and 5th for Craig Lowndes wrapped up a weekend at which I’m sure Roland Dane would have expected more from, especially after the Triple Eight whitewash at Philip Island last season but the championship is still young, and I don’t doubt for one minute that all three will be there or thereabouts come crunch time at the end of the year.