Scott McLaughlin overcame an early challenge from Jamie Whincup to score an emphatic victory in Race 12 at the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown.
Throwing away a possible win yesterday with what he described as a ‘brain fart’ while trying to take the lead on the second lap, McLaughlin made no such mistakes today.
A fourth win from the last six races sees him move from third to second in the standings, closing to within 10 points of championship leading team-mate Fabian Coulthard.
Coulthard trailed home Shane van Gisbergen to be fourth in a 200km race dominated by heavyweight teams Shell V-Power and the Red Bull HRT.
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“I’m pretty pumped with the win but the burnout procedure wasn’t too good,” joked McLaughlin, who popped a front tyre as he celebrated with his brake bias wound to the front.
“I’m stoked even to be able to do a burnout. The guys have given me and Fabian amazing cars. We had really good pace and were able to do the job on strategy.”
Whincup had taken the lead off the start, showing pole-sitter McLaughlin and Coulthard the way in the opening laps.
Coulthard made an early first stop on lap five of 70 and, after Whincup and McLaughlin pitted on laps 16 and 17 respectively, jumped to the lead.
The championship leader couldn’t hold the track position on older tyres, however, yielding to Whincup and eventually McLaughlin during the middle stint.
Taking on more fuel than his nearest rivals in the first stops, McLaughlin had to make his way around David Reynolds and Coulthard before cruising onto the back of Whincup.
McLaughlin was just a second adrift of Whincup when he made his second stop on lap 36, receiving a new drink bottle as well as the routine four tyres and dump of fuel.
With five litres less fuel on board, Red Bull was resigned to the fact that it would lose track position to McLaughlin and elected to hold Whincup out for a further five laps.
He rejoined three seconds behind and, despite the slightly fresher tyres, could do nothing to stop McLaughlin easing to victory.
“The car was good. We got a good start but didn’t quite have the tyre life of car #17 today,” said Whincup.
“But we made some improvements on the car this weekend that we’ll take away and be happy with.”
Coulthard’s mid-race struggle for pace ensured he was jumped by van Gisbergen in the second stops, setting up an absorbing battle between the Kiwis.
Despite lacking outright speed, van Gisbergen hung on and eventually pulled away as Coulthard’s car again faded as the stint went on.
Still, a race devoid of Safety Cars could not hide the reigning champion’s lack of pace – ending up over 20 seconds behind team-mate Whincup.
“It’s been a really tough weekend on our car, but we’ve just persevered,” said van Gisbergen.
“The car wasn’t perfect but we salvaged a tough weekend. I can’t thank my guys enough.”
Coulthard withstood late pressure from Tim Slade, Craig Lowndes, David Reynolds and Scott Pye to bank solid points.
Lowndes had dropped from ninth to 12th off the start but regained track position with an early first pitstop.
James Moffat was the day’s hard luck story, running in the top 10 all day until suffering a tyre blowout with just over 10 laps remaining.
Cameron Waters flew the Prodrive flag in ninth while team-mates Jason Bright, Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert were 13th, 14th and 17th respectively.
Nissan also endured a lacklustre day, with Saturday pole man Rick Kelly the best of the Altima drivers in 10th.