After a first half of the race which never really got going, the final half of Saturday’s inaugural Sydney Supernight gave us everything you have come to expect from Supercars this season. The race showed us just why Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van-Gisbergen can be regarded as some of the best touring drivers in the world, why Craig Lowndes still has what it takes to perform at the top of his game and most importantly, why Fabian Coulthard’s 2018 form could cost McLaughlin this year’s title. After a thrilling end to the race, I’ve put together my thoughts on some of its biggest moments and what it means for the 2018 title race.
Nothing To Choose Between The Top Two Teams
DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight are locked in what has to be one of the most intense inter-team battles in recent memory. There’s absolutely nothing to choose between the Penske Falcon and Triple Eight Commodore and I think we’re going to see the pendulum swing from race to race, and track to track. A Red Bull Holden 1 -2 finish means that McLaughlin’s lead at the top of the table is cut to 89 points, and with just one round left at The Bend before the start of the endurance season, the #17 Ford will be keen to not give away any further ground in the title race.
Over one lap it appears that DJR Team Penske has the edge, but on race pace, the two teams are evenly matched, with Triple Eight seemingly having a very slight advantage this weekend. McLaughlin’s sensational pole position lap in qualifying further cemented his reputation as the man to beat over one lap this year, but Triple Eight are slowly moving closer and closer as they improve the single lap pace of the ZB Commodore. It’s just so close to call and it means that the championship could come down to the smallest of margins.
Lack of Backup Could Cost McLaughlin
I’m going to say it now. I think not having Coulthard to back him up and take points off Triple Eight could cost McLaughlin this year’s title. On a Saturday night where Triple Eight saw all three cars finish in the top four, Coulthard finished back in 10th place despite qualifying on the front row of the grid. McLaughlin’s lack of support was exposed brutally after the late safety car period where he was picked off by SVG for the lead, and then Whincup for second in the closing laps. It’s exactly that period in the race where having Coulthard acting as a buffer and slowing down the Triple Eight cars would have been perfect and would have potentially taken crucial points off McLaughlin’s rivals.
With a championship race as tight as this one I can’t see the title being decided by a large margin. Every single point is so important and if McLaughlin is up against three Triple Eight cars on his own at the front he’s at a significant disadvantage compared to SVG, Whincup and Lowndes.
Reynolds And Erebus Starting To Fall Away
After a first few rounds where David Reynolds was the biggest threat to McLaughlin and SVG, the #9 Penrite Commodore is slowly starting to slip further and further back both in races and in the championship table. An 8th place finish on Saturday night saw Reynolds go his fifth race without a podium finish and he slips to fifth in the championship table as a result, 31 points behind fourth places Lowndes. I don’t think Erebus or Renyolds’ driving has regressed over the first half of the year, but I think the team simply cannot keep up with the pace of development shown by DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight.
The last couple of races have seen Erebus fall back into an upper midfield battle with Walkinshaw, Nissan and Tickford, and it now looks like Tickford (or Mostert at least) are leading the battle of those three teams. With hindsight, it was perhaps to be expected, but Reynolds’ hopes of challenging the title look to be diminishing with every passing race. But the Enduros are on the horizon, and whilst you can never truly write anyone off just yet but it does appear that the team have fallen too far behind in the development race to make a real impact in the title fight. Further podiums and race wins shouldn’t be out of the question, and this has still been a phenomenal season for Reynolds and the whole team.
Percat and LeBroq Enjoyed Great Races
Looking further down the field, Nick Percat and Jack LeBroq both had a fantastic race. Percat rose to 8th from 21st on the grid and LeBroq finished 9th after qualifying 15th. I don’t think BJR have been quite as strong as they usually have over the opening half of the year, and despite Percat’s double podium finish in Melbourne, I was expecting slightly more from Percat, and Tim Slade. Nevertheless, with the big guns of DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight locking out the top of the grid, 9th for Slade and 11th for Percat in the championship table represents a respectable return.
Elsewhere down the field, it was another weekend of struggle and strife for Tickford. Whilst Mostert was comfortably best of the rest coming home in 5th, Winterbottom finished 15th, Waters in 19th and Stanaway down in 21st in another set of disappointing results for the team. Mostert’s podium last time out at Queensland Raceway was a rare positive moment in what is turning out to be a horrible season for Tickford and I think their only real chance of securing a race win might come in the potential chaos of the Enduros. On paper at least, the team have one of the grid’s strongest driver lineups but either the car isn’t fast enough, or Winterbottom, Waters and Stanaway are unable to drive it to its potential.
I’m concerned that we could see Tickford go the way of HRT, and by that, I mean a slow demise into the midfield. I really hope that’s not the case, and I’m left wondering if running four cars is the best strategy to bring them back to the front.
Standout Performers of the Weekend: Scott McLaughlin (for qualifying) or SVG for the race win.
Best Team: Triple Eight
Best Moment: McLaughlin vs SVG after the safety car late in the race.
Championship Standings After Sydney Motorsport Park
|2||Shane Van Gisbergen||2490|
|18||Jack Le Brocq||1136|
|20||Anton de Pasquale||1065|
|22||Simona De Silvestro||870|