On this day: 'Team game' tactics trigger tense Townsville finale

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 06/09/2021
  • By James Pavey

On September 6 last year, Townsville played host to one of the most significant races of the 2020 season.

On paper, it reads a memorable victory for Shane van Gisbergen, who led teammate Jamie Whincup to win from 12th on the grid.

Van Gisbergen sat just ninth in the order upon a Safety Car restart with nine laps to go, but carved through the field on fresh tyres after running a long first stint.

The race ended in a Triple Eight one-two finish - but it was how the team achieved it that left points leader Scott McLaughlin frustrated.

Van Gisbergen made it to third in just three laps, before Whincup let him through with four to go to attack leader McLaughlin.

It took van Gisbergen little time to chase McLaughlin; at Turn 11, van Gisbergen hung his countryman wide, allowing Whincup through to second.

All season had McLaughlin and Whincup fought, with the former carrying the points lead to Townsville.

Whincup won the first two races of the first weekend, before McLaughlin struck back in the finale.

Come the second Townsville event, and McLaughlin won the opener to put more breathing room between himself and Whincup.

The fish out of water seemed to be van Gisbergen, who despite scoring a number of podiums, had yet to win a race in 2020.

The 2016 champion won the Sunday opener, but starting 12th for the finale, needed a miracle to go back-to-back.

The race began with a rare Brad Jones Racing front row leading the field away, with Todd Hazelwood followed by Nick Percat through the first corner.

Erebus Motorsport’s Anton De Pasquale chased them, but after dropping down the field, he would later crash and trigger the race-defining Safety Car period.

The early stages of the race saw Percat hold off a faster train of cars consisting of Chaz Mostert, Whincup, Cameron Waters and van Gisbergen.

On lap 15, Mostert cleared Percat, with Whincup also fighting through.

Van Gisbergen’s charge to victory looked under threat after he spun Waters at pit entry. He would avoid penalty.

McLaughlin pitted from eighth on lap 7, and attempted a big undercut. It worked, with Hazelwood emerging behind the points leader but ahead of Whincup.

Mostert and van Gisbergen were the last of the stoppers on lap 21 and 24, the latter stop coinciding with De Pasquale’s high-speed crash.

On older tyres, McLaughlin had it all to do on the restart, but had enough to deny Hazelwood.

The charging Red Bulls would prove a different proposition, however - and teamwork demoted the points leader from the lead to third at the flag.

"I had nothing left, I was trying my best," said a disappointed McLaughlin, whose series lead had been chopped to 143 points.

"I think if we didn’t have the Safety Car we might have been a real good shot, we were looking after our tyres there but the Safety Car happened and I was just hanging on.

"Shane was playing the team game there, he’s made plenty of clean passes there over the years and that was pretty average, just a big push-off there.

"I get that he’s playing the team game but it would have nice to have a bit more of a fair battle."

Van Gisbergen was delighted with victory, and was pleased the Safety Car worked into his hands.

"What an awesome race,” said van Gisbergen, who helped Triple Eight to its 200th win.

"We had a great car. I got stuck in the first stint and it was going to be interesting trying to get back to the podium but the Safety Car worked out perfectly.

"Big battle at the end, I tried to do the team thing to help Jamie, but awesome result."

Speaking post-race, McLaughlin reiterated that while van Gisbergen may have had a pace advantage after the Safety Car, he didn’t warm to his rivals’ tactics.

"For me, I knew I didn’t have the pace for Shane, he had the fresher tyres and obviously the Safety Car at the end really hurt us,” McLaughlin said.

"I think we did an awesome job holding on that far, but I would have just loved to have a one-to-one battle with Jamie.

"In my eyes it would have been awesome. I get the team game, [but] I feel like it’s a bit early for those silly games.

"For me, whether I agree with that sportsmanship or not, that’s fair game. They’re a top team, they set a precedent, so let’s go.”

McLaughlin would clinch the 2020 title at The Bend Motorsport Park, but van Gisbergen and Triple Eight had the last laugh with a Bathurst 1000 victory.

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