Skaife: The 'significant' SVG-McLaughlin rivalry that got away

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 21/08/2021
  • By James Pavey

Mark Skaife has lamented the absence of Scott McLaughlin amid Shane van Gisbergen’s march to the 2021 title.

When the season resumes at Winton in October, van Gisbergen will arrive with a 276-point series lead.

McLaughlin was the one to beat between 2018 and 2020, with the now-Team Penske IndyCar driver clinching the 2019 and 2020 titles with a round to spare.

It was in 2018, however, when McLaughlin and van Gisbergen went toe-to-toe, with the former winning the title on the very last day.

McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard were replaced by Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale, who have combined for 15 podiums and five pole positions.

McLaughlin left for IndyCar after his 2020 title

However, wins have largely eluded Davison and De Pasquale, the latter claiming the team’s sole win of 2021 in Tailem Bend in May.

Skaife, however, reiterated that McLaughlin made the different, but put current form of the team down to the performance of its cars, rather than Davison and De Pasquale.

“It would be unwise to say Shell V-Power [Racing Team] would be going better if a Scott McLaughlin wasn’t parked in there,” five-time series champion and Supercars commentator Skaife told Supercars.com.

“They would definitely be further up the road than what they are now, and that’s not in any way denigrating the performance of Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale.

“Scott picked up that car and carried it, and there were occasions last year where the car probably wasn’t as good as we thought it was.

“Scott’s ability, and the rapport with Ludo [Lacroix] was such that they made that car better on weekends than probably what the real performance was.”

McLaughlin won 48 races in his time for the Dick Johnson-owned team between 2017 and 2020, 31 of them coming in his dominant 2019 and 2020 campaigns.

The Stapylton-based team was conscious from the get-go that McLaughlin’s remarkable run would be difficult to repeat.

Ahead of the 2021 season, Dick Johnson Racing Chairman and CEO Ryan Story told Supercars.com that the team had “realistic expectations” of its new drivers.

"We don't take for granted the fact that we've won multiple teams' championships and drivers’ championships,” Story said.

Van Gisbergen has won 11 races in 19 starts this season

"The ability for that to be immediately replicated with two new drivers is wishful thinking, in real terms.

"We're very fortunate that we've got tremendous stability across the rest of the organisation.”

Skaife defended Davison and De Pasquale - who have steered the team to second in the teams’ championship - saying comparisons with McLaughlin were unfair.

It came after neither Shell Ford was in the outright running to defeat van Gisbergen and Tickford Racing's Cameron Waters at last year's Bathurst 1000.

“I make the point because where Fabian was versus where Scott was, is probably where the car really was in terms of its outright performance, where it was located in the field,” Skaife said.

“If you go back to Bathurst last year, even with Scott McLaughlin onboard, they weren’t fast enough to win. They weren’t in the race.

“I think they went backwards a little bit with the car at the end of last year, and they’ve put two new drivers in the cars.

“It’s unfair for you to arrive in a car specification that probably wasn’t as good as we thought, and then make comparisons with Scott McLaughlin.”

Regardless, while van Gisbergen has dominated the 2021 season from lights-out at February’s Repco Mt Panorama 500, Skaife believes McLaughlin could have made a difference.

“Scott was absolutely dominant across those three years, and it’s travesty in some ways,” he said.

“We’ve lost a significant rivalry that van Gisbergen was going to have with Scott.

“A long-winded answer is yes, Scott would be further up the road [than Davison and De Pasquale], yes, there’d be a bigger battle between Red Bull and Shell V-Power Racing."

Stay In The Know
Sign up to the Repco Supercars Championship Newsletter