Triple Eight team manager Mark Dutton says the outfit was “purely racing for pride” in Newcastle last Sunday, rather than focusing on Jamie Whincup’s Supercars title chances.
Whincup started the season finale with a slim points lead, but a costly tangle with Michael Caruso on the first lap that swung the balance firmly in Scott McLaughlin’s favour was just part of a tough Saturday.
McLaughlin led home team-mate Fabian Coulthard as Shell V-Power Racing ended Triple Eight’s run of teams’ championship wins, while Shane van Gisbergen copped a penalty for contact with David Reynolds and Craig Lowndes crashed.
The combination prompted team principal Roland Dane to class it “probably the worst day I can remember” for Triple Eight.
By the end of Sunday, though, Whincup had won a seventh title, leading home van Gisbergen in Race 26 as a late McLaughlin penalty for a clash with Lowndes effectively settled the championship.
“[On Saturday], we had one of our worst days of racing as a team,” Dutton said.
“No-one screamed and shouted, Roland didn’t do that. Obviously we held ourselves all accountable and Roland was part of that.
“But it was all positive, it was ‘tomorrow, we’re racing for pride, whether we win, lose, draw, whatever, we’re not finishing the season with that sort of effort because we’re better than that’.
“It was purely for pride [on Sunday]. We were doing all we could do.
“Jamie first, Shane second, that was our goal, Craig as far up as he could be, and obviously you couldn’t have scripted that, the race was a rollercoaster for sure.
“All the efforts the crew went to, we got back to the hotel just before 1am, all three transaxles changed, the amount of work we had to do on the cars was huge.
“And not one person made a single comment of complaint in the team. Not one. It was ‘we’re here to do a job, we’re going to give it our all, we know we can still do it’.
“The points, although it was a huge task, it still was quite manageable.
“You didn’t have to have all the stars aligning perfectly. You just had to have a solid job and a few little things not go your opposition’s way.”
McLaughlin started the final race of 2017 knowing finishing 11th would be enough, even if Whincup claimed his fourth victory of the campaign.
He led van Gisbergen through the opening stint, but a penalty for speeding on pit entry and a second mid-race for turning Simona De Silvestro around meant he had to climb back through the field from outside the top 20 twice.
With Whincup comfortably in the lead - van Gisbergen letting him past on lap 60 of the 95 - McLaughlin got back into 11th fleetingly in the closing stages before his lap 94 collision with Lowndes.
Asked by Supercars.com how much focus was on McLaughlin’s recoveries, Dutton said: “You’re almost not watching our cars, because Jamie was there [leading].
“You sort of go, ‘OK, he’s taking care of himself, what’s happening with Scott? What’s every other driver doing?’
“You’re looking and you’re thinking, ‘hang on, he’s friends with him so he’ll probably let him past easy and, oh, I don’t know if they’re friends’. It was quite comical in that regard.
“But then you’re almost self-analysing that it’s going to come down to two points or something and you’re thinking of every time you made a call during the year that you could’ve made a different one.
“That was interesting, because it was so long, there’s so many laps to go.
“The heart rate was up for a long, long time. I can’t remember it being up so high for a few years, as in that race. That was truly nuts.
“You’re thinking ‘he’s going to get this easily… no he’s not’. It was a rollercoaster.”