Cover Image thanks to Autosport.
DJR Team Penske continued their Phillip Island hot streak with another pair of one-two finishes at the Phillip Island SuperSprint as their championship rivals faltered on a track which didn’t suit the Commodore. As McLaughlin and Coulthard took a win apiece, the chasing pack fought amongst each other for the final step on the podium and places in the top ten, and it was a weekend full of career-best performances and what could have
Coulthard Off The Mark
Sunday’s race marked the end of Fabian Coulthard’s 26-race win drought which stretched back to race 14 of 2018 at Winton. The win couldn’t have come at a better time for Coulthard, who despite showing some strong pace at multiple points up to Phillip Island, had beaten teammate McLaughlin on track just once, in race two at Symmons Plains. Whilst in all probabilities McLaughlin was the quickest man on both Saturday and Sunday, his misfortune with two slowish pitstops on Sunday allowed Coulthard to leapfrog his teammate and once in front, it looked like he had more than enough speed in the car to hold on.
It was a thoroughly deserved victory and one which was long overdue. Coulthard has had his fair share of troubles so far in 2019 and the win will come as a timely reminder to the other side of the DJR Team Penske garage that there are two cars in this title race.
The win leaves Coulthard 124 points behind McLaughlin in the championship race but more importantly, it gives him great momentum going into a phase of the season where results really start to count. The next three races at Perth, Winton and Darwin had are rounds that Coulthard went strongly at in 2017 and he’ll be looking at the next run of races as a chance to even out the championship fight.
Breakthrough Weekend For The Young Guns
Andre Heimgartner and Anton De Pasquale are two of the younger drivers on the Supercars grid who enjoyed a fantastic weekend at Phillip Island.
Heimgartner was best of the rest on Saturday as he converted a strong qualifying into a fantastic 3rd place finish, and his best Supercars result since his 3rd place in the 2017 Surfers Paradise Enduro. Saturday’s podium was Heimgartner’s first solo podium of his Supercars career and it further underlines his status as the fastest of the Nissans so far this season. I think we’ve seen a real improvement from Heimgartner this year and the stability of staying with the same car and team is starting to pay off. He sits 14th in the standings, three places ahead of his nearest teammate Rick Kelly in 17th.
I don’t expect the Nissan Altimas to be as strong as they were at Phillip Island at every round this season, but if Heimgartner can take advantage of the times when they are, I think there are certainly more top-ten finishes to come. I only expect him to push on and get better from here.
Anton De Pasquale is another driver who had a fantastic weekend, capping off a brilliant qualifying with a 3rd place finish on Sunday to record his best-ever Supercars finish. De Pasquale has come on leaps and bounds since his rookie season last year and is in my books, currently the most improved driver on the grid. For Erebus, having De Pasquale now capable of, and regularly running up alongside Reynolds at the front of the field is a fantastic thing to have, and like Heimgartner I expect De Pasquale to continue improving. He did well not to fall back into the clutches of the Tickford trio when he was passed by McLaughlin on Sunday and kept his cool when it was hit and miss if he would even finish the race with enough fuel. The key area he highlighted needed improvement form 2018 was his race pace, and so far he’s exceeding expectations.
Tough Run For Triple Eight
There’s no escaping the fact that Phillip Island was a weekend to forget for Triple Eight after the high of winning their first race of the year in Tasmania. Because they’ve been the top team in Supercars for so long, it’s unusual to see them struggle like they did at Phillip Island and it makes me think that they still have work to do in mastering the move back to single springs.
Phillip Island was always going to be a tough weekend, but Whincup, in particular, looked out of sorts. He retired from Saturday’s race after a wheel came off following a poor pitstop and whilst he showed signs of improvement on Sunday, he came home in 12th and has dropped to 9th place in the championship standings as a result. It’s a concerning time for all at Triple Eight as their main rivals DJR Team Penske look unbeatable at the moment. I’m sure they’ll bounce back, they always do, but a couple more weekends like Phillip Island and they will be all but out of the championship fight.
Shane Van Gisbergen finished 6th and 7th and sits 4th in the championship standings, still well within striking distance. Once all the pitstops had finished on Sunday SVG looked like he had similar pace to De Pasquale who was running third, but was too far behind the battle pack to make any inroads. Phillip Island was clearly one of the worst weekends the team have had for a while, but I’m backing them to bounce back in Perth and at least bag a podium.
Heartbreak For Hazelwood
After a turbulent debut season, Todd Hazelwood is another 2018 rookie who looks like he is making steady progress up the Supercars grid. Now with Triple Eight customer machinery, Matt Stone Racing look like a completely different beast in 2019 and it was heartbreaking to see Hazelwood spun by Courtney on the opening lap of Sunday’s race after qualifying 8th. Had he not been spun, I think Hazelwood was potentially on for a top-ten finish on Sunday and the fact that he rose from last on the opening lap to 16th at the end shows the pace he had in the car.
I think that Hazelwood is going to mature into a really strong driver over the next few seasons and I’m certain that there will plenty of top ten finishes in the remaining races of 2019. He sits 18th in the standings after Phillip Island, and whilst there is still plenty of work to do at Matt Stone Racing it looks like things are heading in the right direction after a testing 2018.
What are your thoughts on the Phillip Island weekend? Who was your standout performer? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!