The Darwin Triple Crown marked the passing of the halfway point (in terms of the number of races) in the 2018 Supercars season and with it, we were treated to yet another weekend of headlines, standout performances and head-scratching disappointments. Hidden Valley Raceway up in Australia’s remote Northern Territory was the scene of Erebus’ strongest weekend of the season so far, perhaps only bettered by last year’s Bathurst 1000 victory. This is a team on the march, and they are fast becoming one of Supercars’ major players. Elsewhere down the field, there was more success for Rick Kelly in the resurgent Nissan Altima and once again Scott McLaughlin extended his championship lead with some stunning driving over the weekend.
I’ve picked out some of the biggest, and most fascinating talking points from the 2018 CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown.
McLaughlin Strengthens His Grip
The championship battle is by no means over and with past champions like Shane Van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes waiting to pounce the title race will remain poised on a knife-edge until after the Enduros. That being said, McLaughlin’s performances this weekend had the hallmark of a champion and I’d argue that Sunday’s drive to 2nd place was more impressive than his win on Saturday given the overheating problems which began after following Rick Kelly for a number of laps. Two podiums, made up of a 1st and 2nd represent another phenomenal haul for McLaughlin who has finished on the podium at every single track this season, the Kiwi extends his lead to 161 points at the head of the championship.
McLaughlin’s double podium and an improvement from Fabian Coulthard on Sunday ensured DJR Team Penske kept their lead over Triple Eight in the team’s championship. The Ford outfit now holds a 61 point margin over their Holden rivals heading into the Townsville 400.
Erebus Come Of Age
I mentioned above that I thought this was one of the strongest weekends for Erebus in Supercars since they joined the series. I can only think of one weekend which was better and that was the 2017 Bathurst 1000. A fine double podium for David Reynolds and a pole position on Saturday was a testament to just how much the team have improved and matured since their Supercars debut back in 2013. Reynolds sits 327 points behind McLaughlin in the championship race, but ahead of esteemed champions Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup. Reynolds and the team have bounced back perfectly after a tough weekend at Winton last time out and showed the type of character, strategic awareness and speed which will certainly carry them to more race wins this season.
Darwin was also a breakthrough weekend for Erebus teammate Anton de Pasquale. The #99 Erebus Commodore secured a career-best qualifying on Saturday lining up 3rd on the grid before dropping to 11th the checkered flag, his second-highest finish in Supercars. Although Sunday didn’t prove to be as fortunate for the rookie, he still made it into his first top ten shootout although he lined up 10th, 6 tenths off the pace after running wide at turn one. 15th place would be de Pasquale’s reward on Sunday but overall it was a brilliant weekend for a driver who looks like a strong bet for race wins in the future.
Testing Times For Tickford
2018 seems to be going from bad to worse for Tickford Racing. After a productive mid-season test where the team felt they had made inroads into the Falcon, Darwin proved to be another disappointing weekend for Tim Edwards’ four-car outfit as no Tickford car finished higher than 12th on either Saturday or Sunday. It appeared that the team went backwards in Darwin, instead of challenging for podiums and race wins. The weekend marked perhaps the worst weekend performance-wise for Tickford for as long as I can remember, and the team has failed to hit the heights it did in 2015 when Mark Winterbottom and the Pepsi Max Falcons swept the field in the opening half of the season.
The frustration at the team is there for all to see, and Frosty looked dejected after qualifying. I know you shouldn’t draw comparisons like this, but Tickford’s struggles so far this year remind me of the HRT team we saw in 2015 and 2016, slowly declining amid a wave of positive rhetoric. I think things can only improve from here. They have the car, resources and drivers capable of taking the fight to DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight, but time is already running out this year to leave a positive impression. With the championships off the table, only a handful of race wins will save this season from being a terrible one.
Nissan Are Backing Up Their Form
Nissan are having their best run of form since they entered Supercars with the Altima, and it was Rick Kelly leading the way once again at Hidden Valley. 6th and 5th place finishes might not sound like something to celebrate, especially after Kelly’s pole position on Sunday but it was consistent pace at different circuits which the team needed to prove more than anything, and they are doing just that. Caruso, whilst yet to hit top form this year finished a reliable 10th and 9th, but teammates Andre Heimgartner and Simona di Silvestro again failed to match the pace of their more experienced teammates.
Kelly remains the only Nissan in the championship’s top ten in 8th place, but with more strong performances I wouldn’t be surprised if the Nissan Altima could sneak another win this season in the hands of Kelly or Caruso. Townsville will provide a real test to the team. Traditionally strong at Hidden Valley, Nissan will need to prove the Altima is improving at all types of circuit if they want to claim real progress this year. Nevertheless, things are certainly heading in the right direction and I’m excited to see what the team can do over the second half of the season.
Let me know what you thought of the weekend in the comments below!
Drivers Standings After Darwin
|2||Shane Van Gisbergen||1614|
|17||Anton de Pasquale||812|
|20||Jack Le Brocq||758|
|22||Simona De Silvestro||582|