I thought we’d have a new winner at some point over the course of the Darwin Triple Crown, but I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect it to be Michael Caruso. That being said I’m stoked it is. Caruso’s, and Nissan’s second Supercars race victory (since they returned in 2013) sees him become the tenth different winner this season and the #23 put in an assured performance after a lighting start off the line to lead Whincup and Mostert home. Nissan have been knocking on the podium door all season long, and this was exactly the kind of result the team needed, and one they can, and must build on for the rest of 2016.
Nissan have put so much work into their engine that they must have been desperate for it to pay off eventually, and it certainly did in Darwin. The scale of Nissan’s progress was clear for everyone to see as Todd Kelly drag raced Scott Pye down the straight in the latter stages of the race, and Caruso put in some fantastic, qualifying style laps to ensure he was ahead when Will Davison exited the pits. With Volvo gone, and neither Holden or Nissan yet confirmed this was a vital victory for the team, and the pace of both Rick and Todd Kelly over the course of the weekend so far shows that the Altima’s stint as a race winning car is no flash in the pan. Caruso jumps up to 7th in the championship, and despite being unfortunate and tangling with Lowndes and Slade on the opening lap, Rick Kelly remains in 9th.
By his own incredibly high standards Whincup has had some pretty average races and qualifying performances since his 3rd place at Barbagallo, but an assured clean drive to 2nd was a welcome return to the podium for Triple Eight after Lowndes was turned around and SVG received his drive through penalty. Whincup now replaces Frosty at the top of the championship table and the Red Bull’s performance is certainly backing up Whincup’s claims that the car feels better than at any point over the last few months. I’m certainly not taking anything away from Nissan and Caruso, but we may well have seen a much closer fight to the finish if the race had run for another 10 or so laps.
Nevertheless, Saturday showed that Whincup is back at the top of his game, keeping his nose clean and staying out of trouble to bring home what could be some very valuable points.
Mostert back on the podium
It’s hard to believe that this was Chaz Mostert’s first podium since the Clipsal 500. Since then, Mostert has been dogged by a combination of bad luck (such as at Philip Island) and poor race pace (Barbagallo) and is still quite unbelievably outside the championship’s top ten. After a strong qualifying, the Supercheap Auto Falcon drove a sensible and consistent race to bring home a trophy for the PRA garage in a race which saw Winterbottom surrender the championship lead and teammate Waters struggle with mechanical issues.
I must say, I actually expected PRA not to dominate, but to come very close to locking out the front row of the grid for qualifying at least. It was in this middle third of the season in 2015 that Winterbottom and Mostert built their unassailable gaps at the top of the championship table and on the going thus far, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to do the same in 2016. Winterbottom was understandably dejected after the race, but he can at least take solace in the fact that all of McLaughlin, Lowndes and Van Gisbergen also ensured miserable races, and we can all remember what happened a few weeks ago on Sunday in Perth…
Strong race for DJR Team Penske
Given where they qualified, it was a great performance from both Scott Pye and Fabian Coulthard, and if they qualify well on Sunday both drivers could well be contention for the race win. Pye finished 5th, and Coulthard 6th as both cars pulled some impressive overtaking manoeuvres and Pye took part in an enjoyable drag race with Todd Kelly down the main straight. They’re still too far down the championship standings to have any sort of major role in this season’s title race but you wouldn’t bet against a podium for DJR Team Penske if they get their strategy right tomorrow.
Elsewhere, after a brilliant opening few laps Lee Holdsworth had a great run to 8th at the flag despite running wide and losing out to the Nissan of Todd Kelly. The extra work Preston Hire Racing are putting in with Triple Eight certainly seems to be paying dividends, and having a quality driver like Holdsworth behind the wheel certainly doesn’t harm their chances either.