At the midway point of four successive Virgin Australia Supercars Championship race weekends, it seems fitting to stop for a moment and consider some hot topics.
Darwin was dramatic at times and was often dominated by Scott McLaughlin; now a new challenge is before the drivers and teams.
Gruelling back-to-back weekends on the streets of Townsville could prove decisive on several fronts, as Supercars.com explores here.
Can Jamie Whincup muster a title challenge?
Scott McLaughlin was simply in a class of his own at the CoreStaff Darwin SuperSprint, sweeping Hidden Valley for the second time in the space of 14 months.
With his nearest title rival Whincup enduring a subdued couple of Sunday races, McLaughlin’s championship advantage has ballooned to 177 points. No other driver is within a full round of his tally.
McLaughlin has spoken of his desire to clinch a third straight title before a mooted Bathurst finale… and it’s Whincup’s job to ensure it’s not that easy.
The good news for Whincup is his long-time mastery on the streets of Townsville, where the next six races and 600 points will be up for grabs.
Whincup has won 10 of 23 races in Townsville history at a remarkable success rate of more than 43 per cent.
The seven-time champion does also have history of running down McLaughlin in a two-horse race, as he famously did in 2017 at Newcastle.
He’ll need to reproduce some more Townsville magic this weekend to keep in the hunt.
How will drivers tackle Townsville?
After minimal heated moments on-track at the two Sydney Motorsport Park rounds, there was a bit more of a fiery feel to Darwin.
Nick Percat was twice punted across the fortnight, once by Shane van Gisbergen and once by Chaz Mostert.
Whincup and Cameron Waters made contact at Turn 1 on Sunday, a day after Garry Jacobson had come to blows there with Macauley Jones.
That’s just the start of it – not to mention drivers crashing out on their own.
Will that trend towards more aggression continue in Townsville or will drivers dial it down a little given the concrete walls that line the street circuit?
Don’t forget Townsville was home to one of the more dramatic moments of last year’s championship, when McLaughlin and David Reynolds came to blows on the opening lap..
Can Team 18 carry forward their Darwin pace?
Charlie Schwerkolt’s team were the revelation of the CoreStaff Darwin SuperSprint as both Scott Pye and Mark Winterbottom consistently fought towards the front.
Pye particularly reaped the rewards, jagging two podiums to go with his breakthrough third place the week before.
The fact that the second Darwin event was run solely on soft tyres eliminates any conjecture about the validity of those podiums… and their single-lap pace was possibly even stronger.
Both cars started every race inside the top eight, Pye finishing fourth for the round and Winterbottom rising to seventh in the overall standings.
Outpacing the factory Red Bull Holden squad in the Darwin finale was the icing on the cake.
Now the challenge is for Team 18 to show they really are genuine contenders by replicating that sort of form at a very different style of circuit in Townsville.
What about Penrite Racing?
On the contrary, it was a fairly miserable weekend for Penrite Racing at a circuit they’d been dominant at the past two years.
Anton De Pasquale did take his maiden Supercars win at the first event in a strategy-inspired race but their usual raw pace just wasn’t there.
It was especially odd seeing Reynolds duke it out among the lower midfield, given he had been on the Hidden Valley podium every race across 2017 and ’18.
There was a sense that something needed to change and the team has now orchestrated that, with data engineer Tom Moore taking over from Barry Ryan on his radio and long-time engineer Alistair McVean’s presence upped from back home in Melbourne.
Reynolds was exceptionally fast last year at Townsville, so it could be the ideal location to get his mojo back.
How is the teams’ title playing out?
It’s another year where McLaughlin might be gradually running away with the drivers’ title but the teams’ championship remains hotly contested.
To recap, here’s how the last four years have played out: Triple Eight (2016), DJRTP (2017), Triple Eight (2018), DJRTP (2019).
It’s looking like coming down to the wire again, with the Ford powerhouse leading the Holden factory team by just 60 points.
Both teams covet the status of doing the best job across two cars and the prize that comes with it: The bay at the top end of pitlane.
Further back, Penrite Racing currently hold their customary fourth but a continued form slump could see them fall back into the clutches of a number of contenders.
Just 28 points separate teams five through eight: Team 18, the lead Brad Jones Racing duo (Nick Percat and Todd Hazelwood), the second Tickford Racing combination (Cameron Waters and Jack Le Brocq), and Walkinshaw Andretti United.
Townsville could lay the foundations to how that battle pans out.
The NTI Townsville SuperSprint will be broadcast live on Ten and Fox Sports, with streaming available on Kayo.