Supercars.com looks back at the key talking points from another busy weekend of track action at the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown.
For all the commentary around Shell V-Power Racing’s ascendancy this year, it’s easy to gloss over the brilliance of Scott McLaughlin, particularly in qualifying.
He remains 10 points behind team-mate Fabian Coulthard in the standings, but at the moment it looks very much like McLaughlin’s championship to lose.
The last 10 races have seen McLaughlin start on the front –row on all 10 occasions compared to just three for Coulthard.
A variety of mistakes from McLaughlin's side of the garage, including an overzealous attempted pass on Rick Kelly and a pitlane stall on Saturday, have kept the points tally finely balanced.
But if Coulthard is always starting behind his team-mate and getting the alternate strategy as a result, it's only a matter of time before McLaughlin moves ahead in the standings.
Curious case of SVG
Put simply, there were more questions than answers coming out of Shane van Gisbergen’s garage all weekend at Hidden Valley.
The reigning champ’s blunt assessment of having a “horrible” car made headlines. Curiously, most of his discomfort was said to centre around a lack of front-end feel under brakes, which has traditionally been a Triple Eight strength.
The bigger picture is that Triple Eight’s development push is seeing it exploring previously uncharted waters, moving in different directions with its three cars in a bid to fast-track improvement.
A tyre failure and later tangle while trying to recover put van Gisbergen out of the Saturday race, becoming the first of the big four to DNF this year and falling almost 200 points adrift of the series lead in the process.
On the positive side for the team, Jamie Whincup showed on Sunday that the Holdens aren’t far away from the Shell Fords – matching McLaughlin for early pace before tyre life proved the difference.
After suffering a major points hit with a gearbox failure at Winton, Chaz Mostert’s championship prospects took another dive at Hidden Valley in a weekend that saw all four Prodrive Fords struggle.
In what commentator Mark Skaife brutally described as a game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’, it seemed nothing could give Prodrive the front-running pace many expected it to show.
Testing in the cold of Winton appeared to have led the team in the wrong direction for Darwin, where dealing with temperature was important for straightline speed in some cars, as well as grip and braking performance.
Mark Winterbottom seemed the most at sea, with a 17th and a 20th in qualifying and a pair of 14th in the races dramatically halting his run of improved results.
The positive from an otherwise horror Sunday was the performance of Cameron Waters who, on top of his game and gelling well with engineer Brad Wischusen, recorded his eighth top 10 finish from 12 races.
BJR bounces back
Brad Jones Racing was by and large the feel good story of Hidden Valley – Nick Percat’s third place finish on Saturday coming 12 months since the squad’s previous podium.
Much has been said about BJR’s horror start to the season that saw it spending more time rebuilding its cars than developing them. While struggling at Winton on a track where it dominated in 2016 was bitterly disappointing, the lack of damage at least allowed it to focus on improvements.
Percat was one of many to struggle in traffic on Sunday and finished just 15th, but a fifth for team-mate Tim Slade – who was on for fourth Saturday before being out-muscled on the restart – and a positive weekend for Tim Blanchard underlined its strength.
The Percat/Slade battle has been one to watch all season. The qualifying score sits at 7-5 in Percat’s favour after Hidden Valley – Slade missing out on evening it up at 6-6 by just 0.0002s on Sunday.
Alongside BJR's podium, top six qualifying speed from David Reynolds (Erebus), James Moffat (Garry Rogers) and Lee Holdsworth (Team 18) showed that Triple Eight isn't the only Holden squad capable of running towards the front.
Up and down Altimas
Pole position for Rick Kelly again proved that when the combination of set-up and track conditions align, the Nissans can be as quick as anything.
Kelly himself stressed that he’d done nothing special behind the wheel to jag the time, making team-mate Michael Caruso’s 22nd in the same session – and Kelly’s 12th in qualifying on Sunday - rather puzzling.
Sadly Rick’s big chance in Race 11 came to naught. Under siege from the outset, he lost ground with a slow pitstop before a stuck throttle put him into the fence.
A 10th for Kelly on Sunday proved the squad’s best result from a weekend where Todd Kelly, Simona De Silvestro and Caruso all found themselves facing backwards in at least one of the two races.
The Saturday pole at least provides encouragement for Nissan's hard work crew, whose highest placed driver in the standings, Todd Kelly, is down in 16th.