DJR Team Penske is making no apologies for sacrificing its second car at the Vodafone Gold Coast 600 to aid Scott McLaughlin’s quest for a maiden Supercars title.
McLaughlin, who missed out on last year’s crown in a heartbreaking Newcastle finale, is now back in the championship lead with five races remaining in 2018.
Alongside co-driver Alex Premat, McLaughlin finished fifth in the Gold Coast 600 opener, turning a 19-point deficit to rival Shane van Gisbergen into a 14-point advantage.
McLaughlin scored AMROR ALL Pole but then watched as Premat tangled with Paul Dumbrell on lap two, dropping the #17 Ford to fifth.
A Safety Car on lap 23 then looked set to require Premat to stack behind the sister car of Fabian Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto in pitlane.
However, the team elected to short-fill the #12 entry; ensuring a clear path for Premat, but forcing D’Alberto and Coulthard to save fuel for the remainder of the race.
Notably, arch rival Red Bull Holden Racing Team stacked van Gisbergen’s car behind its sister entry in the same pitstop, losing ground as a result.
It proved only a minor delay, however, in a troubled day for the Holden team as both of its cars subsequently received drive-through penalties for unsafe re-entries.
Declaring that “the buck stops with me”, DJRTP managing director Ryan Story says compromising Coulthard – who is seventh in the title – was a necessary move.
“We have to make decisions sometimes that are for the betterment of the team as a whole,” explained Story.
“That’s something that we communicate with our drivers and with our crew, and sometimes that does require making tough calls on the strategy front, where effectively one car is disadvantaged over another.
“Scotty is fighting for the championship and we have to think big-picture. If we have any say in it, we’re going to be in this thing right until the end.
“We want to keep pressing on and keep fighting as hard as we can and we’re going to continue to play the team game through to the end.
“At the end of the day, this comes from the top, it’s part of the culture of Team Penske across the board; when the team wins we all win.
“That’s our mentality, the team comes first.”
D’Alberto led the race following Dumbrell’s drive-through penalty, but was then forced to let eventual winner James Moffat through on lap 36 while saving fuel.
The #12 entry remained second for the rest of D’Alberto’s stint, before a longer fill at the second stop and more fuel-saving for Coulthard resulted in an 11th place finish.
“At the end of the day I'm a team player and I'll help this team out as best as I can and today was one of those days where I had to sacrifice a result to help car #17,” Coulthard said.
“Today worked well, Scotty is back in the championship lead, but we took a little bit of a hit.
“We just had to get this car to the finish in the best possible spot and today under the circumstance, that was 11th.
“At the end of the day it is the bigger picture and we want Shell V-Power Racing team to win this championship.
“We won the teams’ championship last year and we'd like to put a drivers’ championship next to that as well.”
Although not regretting the decision, Story said the #12 entry lost more time as a result of the short-fill than originally thought.
“We struggled a little with the fuel-saving, which is what hurt us,” he said.
“Maybe in hindsight we could have put more fuel in than the #12 car.
“But the reality is at the time we were confident in the ability of having a shorter stop and saving fuel through a longer Safety Car period, effectively carrying what we needed to get through to the end.
“That wasn’t quite the case, we gave up a lot of track position as a consequence of that. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.”