After a brief break, Supercars kicks back into action at Hidden Valley Raceway in Darwin this weekend for one of my favourite rounds of the early part of the season. Hot on a six-race winning streak, DJR Team Penske will fancy their chances in the top end this weekend and it will be up to Triple Eight, Erebus and Tickford to close the gap and mount a serious challenge. I’ve given my thoughts on all the biggest talking points ahead of the action in my Darwin Weekend Preview.
McLaughlin On Top In The Top End?
With three race wins in a row under his belt, Scott McLaughlin will be looking to continue his 2019 hot streak up in Darwin and to be honest, it would be more surprising if he didn’t. Two race wins last time out at Winton meant he extended his championship lead to 244 points and he’s crucially more than one race win ahead of any of his rivals. With the way the Supercars points are structured, finishing races is vital and the extra margin McLaughlin has built up is a welcome cushion should he fall foul to mechanical issues and fail to finish a race.
McLaughlin has finished 1st and 2nd in both the last two years at Hidden Valley and my money would be on him at least replicating those results this weekend. Whilst everyone loves a close championship fight, I think we’re seeing McLaughlin continue his development into one of the top Supercars drivers of the last few decades and even if he doesn’t match the likes of Skaife and Whincup in terms of championships, his domination of 2019 will lead to some mentioning him in the same breath. He’s a once in a generational talent, and I feel privileged to be able to watch him qualify and race this year.
Coulthard Has To Strike Back
McLaughlin’s biggest challenge in Darwin is likely to come from the other side of the DJR Team Penske garage in the form of teammate Fabian Coulthard. Winton wasn’t overly kind to car #12, after a coming together with McLaughlin in race one dropped Coulthard to the back of the field. He recovered to finish 15th on Saturday and 2nd on Sunday but on race pace, he didn’t have enough to beat McLaughlin.
Judging by how things have gone so far this year, Coulthard has his work cut out when it comes to beating his teammate in 2019, however one or two DNFs for McLaughlin could change the whole picture at the top of the table. Coulthard finished 15th and 8th last year in Darwin but 1st and 4th in 2017, to underline the fact that he does have some good pace at Hidden Valley. Over the course of the season, it’s going to be hard to consistently be faster than car #17 but Coulthard needs to keep doing everything he can to at least finish 2nd when McLaughlin wins to maintain a title challenge.
Erebus To Strike?
After a tough-ish start to the year, Erebus have been slowly impressing since Symmons Plains and will be keen to put in a good showing after a strong round at Darwin back in 2018. David Reynolds finished 3rd and 1st at Hidden Valley last year, and after a soild 3rd and 4th at Winton last time out the signs are there that Reynolds is certainly capable of being the top driver outside of the DJR Team Penske Mustangs. Reynolds sits right in the middle of an intense battle for 3rd in the table which stretches all the way from Shane Van Gisbergen in 3rd and Nick Percat in 7th, and whilst at the moment the top two look out of reach, there’s still plenty of pride left to race for. I’m expecting Reynolds to be strong again this weekend and a podium isn’t out of the question.
After his maiden Supercars podium at Phillip Island, Anton De Pasquale’s last four race results of 13th, 7th, 18th and 17th haven’t quite made the same kind of headlines. There’s no doubt that De Pasquale has seriously improved this year and he looks far closer to Reynolds both in races and in qualifying than he did at any point in 2018. However, the thing which is going to see him continue to rise up the championship table from his current 13th place standing is consistency, and he will be targeting more of that this weekend. He finished 11th and 15th last year in Darwin, but I’m expecting top tens on Saturday and Sunday.
Pither Gets Another Shot
After standing in for the injured Richie Stanaway on Sunday at Winton, Chris Pither will get another two races behind the wheel of car #33 this weekend. Stanaway, who sat out race two at Winton has suffered a setback in his recovery from a neck injury and will now target a return in Townsville in July. I was really impressed with Pither last time out, and he rose from a back-of-the-grid qualifying slot to finish a commendable 14th at the flag. Already a GRM Enduro driver, the extra seat time will do both his, and GRM’s enduro chances the world of good.
Darwin is of extra importance to Pither, in a world where drivers searching for a full-time drive rarely get the opportunity to prove themselves like this over the course of a race weekend. He showed flashes of great pace on his way to 21st in the standings in 2016, but Darwin gives him another chance to stake his claim for a main game drive next year. It’ll be tough, but Pither’s target will be to match and beat teammate James Golding. If he does, he’ll be a name on the lips of many when silly season talks begin later this year. Whilst I hope Stanaway makes a speedy recovery, I’m looking forward to seeing how Pither goes.
Who do you think will come good in Darwin this weekend? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!