Shane van Gisbergen’s quest for back-to-back Supercars titles is off to the perfect start with victory in the opening race at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide.
The New Zealander won the race from Shell V-Power Racing’s Fabian Coulthard and Mobil 1 HSV Racing’s James Courtney after taking the advantage during the pitstops.
The trio raced in a breakaway group of three for the bulk of the 250km before van Gisbergen pulled away in the final 20 laps, eventually taking the flag 15 seconds ahead.
Prodrive’s Cameron Waters matched his best efforts in the series with fourth place while Rick Kelly moved from eighth in qualifying to finish fifth.
Race-winner van Gisbergen’s team-mate, Jamie Whincup, ended up sixth after an early pitstop gamble failed to yield a move through the field.
Whincup dived to the lane after Will Davison crashed at Turn 8 on the opening lap, but lost out when no Safety Car was forthcoming.
Last year’s winner Nick Percat finished P7 after a late move on Craig Lowndes, who recovered from 13th on the grid to run as high as sixth before finishing eighth.
Chaz Mostert crossed the line in ninth after two early off-track excursions while James Moffat made an impressive start to his Holden tenure, grabbing P10 for Garry Rogers Motorsport.
Van Gisbergen’s dominance was underscored after starting the race from P1 and setting the fastest lap of 1:20.9659s.
The win marked the 99th for Holden’s VF Commodore and continues the car’s unbeaten streak at the Clipsal 500 since its introduction in 2013.
Van Gisbergen demonstrated his composure after he lost the lead to Fabian Coulthard on the opening lap, with the Ford driver making the decisive move going into Turn 8.
The Shell V-Power Racing driver worked out an advantage over the early laps of the race ahead of van Gisbergen and Courtney.
Scott McLaughlin, a pre-race favourite, pitted on lap 7 to run a counter strategy and emerged behind Whincup.
Coulthard and Courtney took their first stops on lap 18, returning to the track without losing position to Whincup and McLaughlin.
Local driver Tim Slade made contact with team-mate and fellow South Australian, Nick Percat, which put him into the tyre wall at Turn 6 on lap 20.
Though the Freightliner Racing driver was able to extricate the car from the wall without assistance, a discarded piece of body work brought out the Safety Car.
Van Gisbergen and Rick Kelly took a pitstop during the period, but the Kiwi’s longer refuel time would move him behind Whincup for a net fourth place when he returned to the track.
The reigning champion passed Whincup for P3 on lap 25 but it wasn’t until the second and final stops that the true order would emerge.
Meanwhile, fifth placed McLaughlin was handed a drive-through penalty for weaving behind the Safety Car with its lights out, dropping him down the order.
Courtney made his final stop on lap 42, with Coulthard following a lap later.
Van Gisbergen stopped on lap 44, but with a shorter fill time, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver exited into the lead before stretching his advantage in the final stint of the race.
Mark Winterbottom made his final stop on lap 45 and rejoined in a net fifth place ahead of Jamie Whincup.
Contact with Whincup at Turn 5 then saw The Bottle-O Ford turned around, dropping Winterbottom eight places. The incident will be investigated by race control post-race.
Waters proved to be a beneficiary of the carnage surrounding him, with the Prodrive youngster putting in an assured drive and holding off Rick Kelly’s late charge.
David Reynolds was handed a late pitlane penalty for excessive kerb hopping, robbing Erebus of a top 10 finish.
Taz Douglas was forced to exit his Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden on lap 44 after a cool suit failure while an exhausted Dale Wood had a gearbox problem end his day.
Newcomer Simona De Silvestro ended her first race as full-timer in P20 while teenager Alex Rullo was 23rd, two laps down.