The Debrief: A bombshell and a shellacking

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 13/07/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam

Supercars' northern sojourn continued with the Watpac Townsville 400, following June's trip to Hidden Valley in Darwin.

The weekend will long be remembered for Craig Lowndes announcing his end-of-2018 retirement, with Triple Eight then dominating the on-track headlines as well.

Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen led a one-two for the Red Bull Holdens apiece, while championship leader Scott McLaughlin banked a pair of thirds.

There were some sore ears, cars and bodies elsewhere in pitlane, as Supercars.com reviews the big talking points.

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CL going, not gone

The Townsville weekend started on an unexpected note, with Lowndes announcing on Friday morning that the 2018 season will be his last as a full-time Supercars driver.

Lowndes, of course, made his debut as 'The Kid' back in 1996, and has won just about everything there is to win since.

He'll leave big shoes to fill, but at least we've got the rest of the campaign – and then surely a few PIRTEK Enduro Cups – to enjoy.

And if Townsville is any indication, he'll step back in fine form, having finished fourth each day of an emotional weekend at Reid Park.

Lowndes is fifth in the points and says staying in the top five is his aim. You definitely wouldn't bet against him doing that from here.

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Triple Eight's terrific Townsville

If you don't like Triple Eight – or Triple Eight being in the news – you might not have enjoyed the rest of the weekend.

The factory Holden squad had a serious return to form, with Jamie Whincup leading home Shane van Gisbergen on Saturday and van Gisbergen switching the one-two order on Sunday.

Whincup's performance on the Saturday afternoon was outstanding, especially the way he cruised away at the front of the field to lead by about 15 seconds mid-race.

Van Gisbergen and his crew did their homework on the other side of the Red Bull HRT garage on Saturday night to turn the tables 24 hours later, while Lowndes made it three team cars in the top four both days.

Triple Eight's ZBs have raced well for most of the year, but in Townsville the team also nailed ARMOR ALL Qualifying both days for the first time in a long time.

Given its street-circuit record, expectations are being kept in check and there are more examinations to follow. But Townsville is a sign of what it's capable of.

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McLaughlin banks a championship weekend

To many, the third quarter of an AFL Grand Final is also known as the 'premiership quarter', in which the silverware is won or lost.

When the 2018 Supercars silverware is handed out in four-and-a-bit months, we might well look back at weekends like Townsville as being key for McLaughlin.

The Shell Ford couldn't match the Red Bull ZBs around Reid Park, and even suggested his driving on Sunday "sucked".

He still left with third place each day, though, taking his 2018 podium tally to 13 from 18 starts.

McLaughlin will have weekends in which he sets the pace, but keeping the points loss to 21 – and preserving a 130-point margin over van Gisbergen – is about as good as it gets.

The 25-year-old flew a lone hand for Ford, which is easy to overlook with the second Falcons finishing fifth each day and within sight of McLaughlin thanks to late Safety Car periods.

Team-mate Fabian Coulthard got there from ninth on Saturday and Chaz Mostert from 12th on Sunday, when Coulthard had to work his way from 18th on the grid to eighth.

The #17 Ford was the only one in the mix at the front of the field, while Shell V-Power Racing relinquished the teams' championship lead to the Red Bull HRT.

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Tickford tempers flare

Even with a more positive showing in Townsville, Tickford Racing didn't quite stay out of the spotlight, especially on Saturday.

Mostert had to double-stack behind Mark Winterbottom during the second round of stops, a result of the Bottle-O Ford driver thinking he had a left-front puncture and coming in at short notice.

The Supercheap Auto driver was livid on the radio and had to settle for 17th, having been 13th when he came in on lap 42.

There was worse to come after rookie Richie Stanaway pitted during the late Safety Car period, looking to gain some spots on the run home on fresher rubber.

However the incorrect left-rear tyre went on, which prompted a string of heavy radio messages from driver-to-team about the state of the rear grip before he was told what had happened.

His mood didn't improve, drifting through the final sector before being told to cut that out, for the sake of his Falcon's engine more than anything else.

Stanaway is not having the rookie season he might've expected, and driver and team will be hoping a "vent" on Saturday night acts as something of a circuit-breaker.

Frustrations aside, the team took encouragement from how its cars performed.

It will be aiming higher than best grid spots of sixth and 12th (on Sunday, behind Will Davison's customer FG X in fifth), and finishes of sixth and fifth, but it does at least look like progress.

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Rookies battered and bruised

Supercars' five rookies were in the wars across the pair of 200km races.

Any hopes Stanaway had of getting a solid result on Sunday came to an end when he was turned around at Turn 2 on the opening lap by Garth Tander, eventually finishing 20th.

James Golding led the way for the youngsters, crossing the line 17th each day, which became a pair of 16ths – his best single-driver results – with post-race penalties.

Golding's fight in the pack impressed Garry and Barry Rogers and he was involved in Davison's late exit on Sunday with a move at Turn 6, but that was not referred to the stewards.

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Davison was already on the back foot having been half-spun after the Safety Car restart by Jack Le Brocq, who received a 15-second penalty for the clash.

That followed Le Brocq's own bruising end to Saturday's race, his Tekno Holden finding the concrete wall heavily while fighting James Courtney for 17th on the last lap.

Anton De Pasquale was also penalised on Sunday, losing 35 points for unloading Michael Caruso's Nissan, the Erebus driver's day having started with an off in qualifying that left him at the back of the grid.

Capping a rough weekend for the rookies, Todd Hazelwood's right shoulder "popped out" early in Saturday's race after wheel-to-wheel contact with Simona De Silvestro's Nissan.

The Bigmate Racing driver got it back in and soldiered on, but had to battle that pain and a failed coolsuit on what must've felt like a never-ending Sunday afternoon.

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