The penultimate round of the 2018 Supercars season certainly wasn’t without incident, and the ITM Auckland SuperSprint gave us all the controversy you could possibly want leading up to a title decider. This year’s two title protagonists, Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen took a win apiece at Pukekohe Raceway as the gap between them stayed at 14 points heading into the final weekend of the season at Newcastle. Elsewhere down the field, we saw the teamwork we predicted from Triple Eight, welcome results for some of the Tickford cars and a whole host of other talking points. I’ve summarised some of the highlight moments from the Auckland weekend in my Supercars Weekend Wrap.
As It Was At The Top
Before this weekend started I predicted that it was going to be too close to call between the championship’s top two. Van Gisbergen won on Saturday with McLaughlin second, and the results were reversed on Sunday as McLaughlin led Van Gisbergen home. With the streets of Newcastle up next where anything could happen, a 14-point gap can be wiped out in less than a second and the stakes going into the last two races of the season could not be higher.
If the championship does go down to the wire and does go the way of Van Gisbergen, some will look back on Saturday’s pitstop incident as one of the pivotal moments of this year’s title race. TV cameras captured images of Van Gisbergen’s wheels spinning as the #97 was lowered to the ground during his final stop. Despite this appearing to be against the rules, the fact that the wheels did not complete one full rotation meant that no penalty was applied, and the race victory was allowed to stand.
I’m unsure what the right decision would have been, but I do think that the rules need to be applied as they are written down in the rulebook. My interpretation of the rule
“11.8.8 During any Pit Stop, from the time the Car leaves the ground until it returns to the ground, it is not permitted to have the clutch engaged so as to cause the rear wheels to rotate unless prior approval is given by the S&TD.”
leads me to believe that there should have been a penalty, but controversy happens all the time in motorsport and if SVG won the title in Newcastle you couldn’t say that he didn’t deserve it because of this incident.
Triple Eight Working As A Unit
It didn’t come as a surprise when Whincup slowed in the last sector of the final lap to let SVG through to take second. Like it or not, Triple Eight are the most successful team in the pitlane for a reason and I’m sure there weren’t many people who didn’t expect team orders to come into things. Team orders happen in nearly every form of motorsport, and it’s natural that Triple Eight will do everything they can to help SVG win his second title. There was nothing to choose between Triple Eight and McLaughlin in terms of pace at Pukekohe, but SVG’s points haul was maximised with the help of his teammates.
I do think that Dutton’s comments that Whincup slowed to save fuel for the finish were quite frankly, laughable, however. Although, I guess they needed some excuse!
McLaughlin’s teammate Coulthard had a DNF and 7th across the weekend’s two races and I think that McLaughlin would be foolish to expect any kind of assistance at Newcastle. As good as he is, Coulthard has been off the pace for much of 2018 and if DJR Team Penske ran another car with the likes of Chaz Mostert driving, I believe they would have a far bigger cushion over SVG than they do now.
Nissan Finishing Slowly
Nissan’s final season as a Supercars constructor is ending with something of a whimper after a great run between Philip Island and Darwin. Andre Heimgartner finished 8th in Sunday’s race, Nissan’s highest finish of the weekend with their highest placed driver Rick Kelly (9th) finishing 16th and 22nd. I do fear for the team which will become Kelly Racing next year, as I just can’t see them extracting any more from the Altima. With the Holden teams improving the Commodore and the might of Penkse, Tickford and Ford developing the Mustang I think the Altima is going to be left even further behind than it is already.
Running a four-car outfit is a huge ask, and we’ve seen with Tickford this year that it can hamper performance when resources are stretched. Whilst all of Nissan’s drivers are brilliant in their own right, it’s been a while since any of them tasted real success, even with Rick Kelly’s championship win back in 2006. It’s a real shame because I think Nissan and the Kellys have done nothing but great things for the series since 2013, but I’m worried that the team and car is going to be even further off the pace in 2019.
Elsewhere Down The Field
Elsewhere it was a solid weekend for David Reynolds, and it’s perhaps a sign of just how far Erebus have come that I saw a 4th and 5th place finish as good but unspectacular. Outside of Triple Eight and DJR Team Penske, I think Reynolds and Erebus have been the third best car/driver combo this year and I did have them down as a potential podium finisher at Pukekohe. Nevertheless, 5th in the table is secure and it has been a brilliant season for the team.
Tickford had a good weekend by their 2018 standards with a rare top ten finish for Cam Waters (7th) coming on Saturday and a 3rd and 6th for Mostert. 2019 can’t come soon enough for this team, but I’m unsure about the future of Richie Stanaway. I’m sure I’m not the only one who rated Stanaway incredibly highly before the start of this season, and I still do. It’s been a tough debut year for the rookie, but I’d like to see him stay with the team for at least another season. Supercars is such a tough series to come into and let’s not forget that Jamie Whincup also had a tough start to his V8SC career.
What were your thoughts on the weekend, and that pitstop incident? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook.