It’s been a few days since Shane Van Gisbergen sealed his second race victory of the season in Darwin, and in a race of attrition in Sunday some major championship contenders had miserable afternoons, and controversial ones at that. After a welcome return to the top step of the podium for Caruso on Saturday, the whole Supercars community was reminded once again on Sunday just how much drivers risk when they step in the car as Lee Holdsworth was transferred to hospital following a monumental collision with the wall on lap one. Thankfully it seems that Holdsworth will make a full recovery, but it’s a shame that the Preston Hire Racing driver will miss Townsville and Ipswich, especially after scoring his best result of the season (8th) on Saturday and real progress with the car was being made. I’m sure Reindler will do a great job as Holdsworth’s replacement, but it won’t be easy given just how competitive the field is this season. Below, you can find my assessment of the action on Sunday afternoon at the Darwin Triple Crown.
An all round disaster for Prodrive
I mentioned in my Darwin preview that I fully expected PRA to be bang on the pace last weekend, and that included taking at least one pole position. The PRA Falcons were supreme last season in Darwin and although at times both Winterbottom and Mostert looked fast, they lacked any form of consistency over the course of the weekend, something which could come back to bite Frosty in the second half of the season. Cam Waters had a tough weekend, finishing 24th and 22nd after sustaining damage in both races, and despite a great podium on Saturday, Chaz Mostert was unable to finish higher than 23rd on Sunday after sustaining damage.
With Waters and Mostert out of the picture, PRA’s sole hopes for a strong finish on Sunday were resting on the shoulders of Winterbottom who went on to endure what had to be one of the worst races of his career, although I think getting a drive through for the contact with Russell near the end of the race was a harsh decision. Todd Kelly’s car control after Frosty tagged him on the main straight was incredible, and although it was certainly out of character for the 2015 champ we shouldn’t come down on Winterbottom too harshly, after all these years in the main game he’s entitled to make the occasional mistake. What is damaging however is the impact a 20th place finish on Sunday had to Frosty’s title defense, as he now falls to 4th in the championship table, 63 points behind Whincup.
Townsville was a happy hunting ground for PRA last season, and it’s important that Winterbottom gets his title charge back on track. After all, I’m no die hard Ford or Holden fan but the #1 is the only Ford in the top ten, and most certainly the only one capable of challenging for the championship.
McLaughlin flies under the radar
I think Darwin was an important weekend for Scott McLaughlin and although he didn’t feature heavily in race or press coverage I think both McLaughlin and GRM can be proud of their efforts at the weekend. The Volvo S60 was clearly some way off being the fastest car at Hidden Valley, yet McLaughlin kept his nose relatively clean over the course of the weekend to finish 10th on Saturday and 7th on Sunday, although Sunday’s result was helped by a number of high profile clashes and retirements. To mount a consistent championship charge it’s vital that on weekends when perhaps the car isn’t the best in the field that both team and driver maximize the points opportunity available to them, something Frosty and PRA did so successfully in the closing stages of 2015, and McLaughlin and Volvo did exactly that in Darwin.
McLaughlin certainly wasn’t the hero of the Triple Crown, and neither was he the villain but he did however show that he’s mature enough to think about the long game, and the title which he is still very much in contention for a the end of the season. Well done GRM.
James Moffat was another benefactor of the carnage on Sunday as he drove a strong race to 10th, his second strongest result of the season after Philip Island.
Slade strikes again
Everyone was expecting BJR to be strong in Darwin, and Tim Slade scored another great podium finish on Sunday, keeping him inside the championship’s top ten in 8th. Slade and BJR failed to go as well as expected on Saturday finishing in 13th place but on Sunday the Freightliner Commodore just had enough legs on Lowndes to keep the #888 at bay in the closing laps of the race. Fabian Coulthard scored a great podium for BJR at Townsville last year, before both Coulthard and Bright enjoyed good runs at Sydney Motorsport Park, and there’s no reason why Slade can’t repeat the success BJR enjoyed last year again.
With the pressure of a first (and second) race victory off his shoulders Slade was free to give a great demonstration of what the BJR Commodore is capable of, something which could well be on the mind of Jason Bright. Bright’s been a great, and a successful ambassador to Supercars over the years but with silly season approaching and the rumour mill swirling he could find his drive under threat. 11th, 16th, 12th and 16th in a set of four races when your teammate has finished on the podium three times (1st, 1st, 13th, 3rd) doesn’t make great reading, and I’m sure Bright will be keen improve his fortunes as a matter of urgency.
First lap madness
No analysis of the Darwin Triple Crown would be complete without touching upon the sheer amount of carnage we saw in the opening laps on Sunday. I can’t honestly remember the last time I saw an opening lap like it, but lap one, and the laps which followed certainly ruined the races of a number of drivers who should have been finishing inside the top ten, the likes of Mostert, Coulthard, Pye and to some extents Cam Waters who has a brilliant car underneath him. I love good strong racing as much as the next motorsport fan, but to me it seemed like some drivers saw the red mist in the opening laps on Sunday, and the retirements and damage denied us what could have been an incredible race.
Of course, the racing has been amazing this season and I’m sure it will continue to be that way, but what looked like some avoidable and unfortunate incidents on television certainly damaged the races of Whincup and Davison (stacking), Mostert, Pye, Coulthard and Todd Kelly who was due a strong result. Nevertheless, I think we can put the carnage in Darwin down to a one time thing, and I can’t wait for Townsville in a couple of weeks time.