Scott McLaughlin made it five race wins in a row as he became the first ever driver to win the Darwin Triple Crown last weekend at Hidden Valley Raceway. Dominant from the start to the end, McLaughlin’s Darwin performance was up there with some of his best of the year so far and it left the rest of the Supercars grid trying to play catch-up once again. There were a number of fascinating storylines and battles playing out over both Saturday and Sunday all the way up and down the grid, but try as they might, no-one could stop car #17. The likelihood is they won’t all season. I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest talking points from the Darwin Triple Crown in my weekend wrap.
McLaughlin Claims The Triple Crown
I’m fast running out of superlatives to describe Scott McLaughlin’s performances this season. The defending champion was supreme in Darwin last weekend and grew his championship lead to 319 points, over a whole round’s worth of points. It’s crazy to think that McLaughlin could DNF both races in Townsville and still retain the lead of the championship. That’s how good he’s been so far this year.
Untouchable on Saturday and Sunday, I feel that McLaughlin has got the 2019 championship more or less in the bag unless Fabian Coulthard can suddenly find an extra few tenths per lap in race trim. Of course, with so many points on offer during the Enduros you can only really begin to talk about the title afterwards but at the moment I can’t see anyone beating him. However, the championship isn’t the only prize on offer this year. The other one is Bathurst, and I get the impression that with his 2018 title already in the bag, conquering the mountain will be McLaughlin’s real target this year.
I’m torn as a fan, because on the one hand, I feel privileged to be able to watch a driver who is bound to go down in history as one of the touring car greats if he stays in the category, but on the other it’d be nice to not to know who is going to win the race before it’s even started. Nevertheless, becoming the first driver to win the Darwin Triple Crown shows us just how good McLaughlin was last weekend, and he’s setting the standard in 2019.
Horror Weekend For Brad Jones Racing
BJR had enjoyed a relatively strong start to 2019 with both Nick Percat and Tim Slade scoring highly over the opening few races. However, Darwin was nothing short of a nightmare for the team as a series of accidents, including heavy ones for both Percat and Macauley Jones forced BJR into some serious repairs.
Truth be told, it’s hard to pick any form of a highlight from BJR’s Darwin after Tim Slade was tagged by Rick Kelly on Saturday whilst Percat went on to score a weekend-best 13th place finish. On Sunday they fared little better as Percat raced from the back of the grid to 15th, whilst the other cars of Slade, Jones and Jack Smith finished 18th, 22nd and 25th respectively.
With Percat in 8th and Slade in 11th in the championship standings there are still plenty of reasons for positivity at BJR, but they will be keen to return to the strong front-running pace they showed at the start of the year. Apart from a 7th in race one at Winton for Percat, there hasn’t been much for BJR to shout about in recent races. I feel like the team have gone from slightly punching above their weight in the opening few races to spending the last two rounds punching well below it. Both Percat and Slade have the skills and machinery to finish in the top ten in the table with occasional podiums, and, it would be great for Supercars to see them win a race this year.
Strong Tickford Going Under The Radar
With the spotlight firmly on DJR Team Penske when it comes to the Mustang’s success, it’s easy to overlook that the fact that Tickford had a solid weekend in Darwin with all four cars now sitting inside the championship’s top ten. With Mostert in 4th, Waters in 7th, Davison in 9th and Holdsworth in 10th Tickford are making steady progress this year and whilst having a much better season than in 2018, there’s still an awful long way to go to catch DJR Team Penske.
Mostert’s 2nd place on Saturday was backed up by a solid pair of 4th places for Waters, and Davison was unlucky to end Saturday’s race in 12th after starting so well. Holdsworth has also made good progress in the last couple of rounds and Darwin, with a 6th and 7th placed finish over both races marked his best weekend to date. I’m not sure any of Waters, Davison or Holdsworth are going to consistently beat Mostert in races but it does indicate that there are some signs of recovery at Tickford. The thing is, DJR Team Penske are so good at the moment in the same car that it’s highlighting just how much work Tickford need to do to produce a championship winning car once again.
Erebus Beating Triple Eight In Battle Of The Holdens
Erebus and Triple eight are currently locked in a battle to be best of the Holdens, and it’s one where Triple Eight currently have a serious challenge on their hands to win. Erebus were strong in Darwin as David Reynolds finished 3rd and 2nd and Anton De Pasquale 11th and 8th after a slow pitstop hampered his chances on Saturday. It was in qualifying trim where the speed difference between Erebus and Triple Eight was most apparent, and whilst Whincup actually showed really good race pace to finish 5th both days, SVG struggled to 8th and 10th.
Whincup and Van Gisbergen sit 6th and 5th in the standings respectively and to be truthful, winning the drivers title in 2019 is more or less already out of reach for the pair. Even if McLaughlin has a shockingly bad second half of the year, you can count on Fabian Coulthard picking up solid points and wins, and it’s 2nd, or maybe even 3rd place in the drviers standings which Triple Eight will now be fighting for. They’re in for a tough battle, with Reynolds coming into form in a fast Erebus outfit and Mostert finding some consistency. I actually think it’s going to be a really interesting battle from 2nd down to 6th in the table, and with the Holdens the fastest through the speed traps in Darwin, Bathurst is still very much on the table.
Who was your top performer in Darwin? Let me know in the comments below or over on Facebook!