The Debrief: Fireworks, convoys and lone rangers

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 09/08/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam

Night racing on Australian soil returned to the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship after a 21-year absence in style last Saturday evening.

The inaugural Red Rooster Sydney SuperNight 300 delivered on the pre-event hopes of a spectacular show at a packed Sydney Motorsport Park.

It threatened to throw a curveball in the title fight, with 300 points on the line for the 300km of racing, but Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen both got through unscathed.

As the dust and confetti settles on the overhauled event, Supercars.com looks back at the big talking points.

Turn on the bright lights

Sydney Motorsport Park's Supercars event was a perfect test case for the new SuperNight format, and it passed with flying colours.

The crowd was up, generating a cracking atmosphere as the sun set on Saturday evening, and the feedback from teams, drivers and fans – new and hardened – alike was all very promising.

A special pre-race show helped cast it as an event rather than just a race, giving drivers a footballers-through-the-tunnel sort of entry to the arena.

As van Gisbergen reached the chequered flag, fireworks marked the end of the program and a big undertaking.

Sure, there are things like the on-track lighting that can be refined, but it was overdue and well received.

All in all, it provides a sound template to potentially have more night racing in the Supercars mix.

Triple Eight hitting its straps

Triple Eight's dry run of eight races without a win across the Phillip Island, Barbagallo, Winton and Hidden Valley events is quickly becoming a distant memory.

The factory Holdens are back in form, winning four of the last five races between van Gisbergen (three) and Jamie Whincup (one).

That block includes three one-two finishes and in the race it didn't win – on the Saturday at Queensland Raceway – van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes finished second and third.

In Sydney, it finished with three of the top four drivers; van Gisbergen and Whincup in first and second and Lowndes fourth.

Through the middle of the race, Lowndes actually looked its most-likely victor, fighting McLaughlin for the top spot.

He was right behind the Shell Ford when the late Safety Car – and new tyres – gave van Gisbergen and Whincup a platform from which to pounce on the run home.

It is easy to talk about the luck of the Safety Car; Triple Eight manager Mark Dutton said they planned/hoped for it, with third and fourth the likely outcome otherwise.

Planning earlier in the weekend, though, left those sets of greens for the final stint. All three cars had to fight through Q1, but the team's one-lap form now looks to be clicking.

There's some serious momentum building at Triple Eight as we enter the business end of the season.

McLaughlin needs more help

There was a lot of talk about the fight between van Gisbergen and McLaughlin after the Safety Car period, as the former tried to find a way past the Shell Ford.

While "gutted" to miss out on the win, McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske had no qualms about it post-race.

McLaughlin was, though, playing a lone hand at the front after that restart, trying to keep the three Triple Eight Commodores at bay.

He started the 77 laps side-by-side through Turn 1 with team-mate and fellow front-row starter Fabian Coulthard, whose run of improved qualifying form from Ipswich continued.

Through the first stint, Coulthard faded to fourth and nearly 15 seconds behind McLaughlin, and then eighth and 23s adrift during the second.

Lowndes was 10th at the end of the first lap, but through those first two stints worked his way into the lead fight.

That gave Triple Eight another bullet in the strategic fight – one that forced McLaughlin to follow suit in pitting before the Safety Car.

Coulthard's pace was similar to McLaughlin's during the third stint, and he then had a buckled wheel on the run home, taking the restart 10th and finishing 11th.

That left-rear problem might have meant Coulthard wasn't much help to his team-mate, but being in the fight at the restart surely wouldn't have hurt the championship leader.

Sure, without the Safety Car period, McLaughlin probably does enough to keep Lowndes at bay, van Gisbergen finishes second and the younger Kiwi's championship lead grows slightly.

As it happened, though, McLaughlin was passed by van Gisbergen and Whincup on the run home and finished third, van Gisbergen trimming the gap from 131 to 89 points.

Coulthard is sixth, 783 adrift, and Red Bull HRT's lead in the teams' championship now 261 points.

If McLaughlin's going to win this title, he'll probably need Coulthard to take some points off his pursuers.

WAU's double disaster

After a few lean rounds, and a first-lap clash last time out at Queensland Raceway, Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing should have left Sydney with a big bag of points.

The Commodores of Scott Pye and James Courtney were quick in practice and lined up sixth and 11th for the 300km race.

Pye suggested the cars were relishing the lower-UV conditions offered by the night running after setting the second-fastest time on Friday evening, and that carried into the race.

Having led momentarily after making his first stop, Pye was running ahead of Chaz Mostert in fifth place when he suffered a left-front suspension failure on lap 54 of the 77.

That followed an almost identical failure for Courtney two laps earlier, while in eighth position.

With the dropped points and other results, Pye and Courtney fall to 10th and 14th in the standings, and the outfit from third to sixth in the teams' points.

More good signs from rookie crop

The unofficial Rookie Cup leader, Jack Le Brocq flew under the radar on his way to eighth in the Tekno Commodore.

He lined up 15th, making Q2 automatically at the end of practice, having been seventh-fastest in the combined order from the two sessions.

Le Brocq started 15th, got his way into the top 10 during the third stint of the race and stayed there.

The 26-year-old crossed the line at the tail of a pack consisting of Rick Kelly, David Reynolds and Nick Percat; one title and three Bathurst wins putting Le Brocq in good company.

James Golding joined Le Brocq in skipping Q1 and recorded a new personal-best grid position of 13th.

The Garry Rogers Motorsport driver was ninth at the late restart but got shuffled back to 13th, still his new solo benchmark in a race.

It was harder going for the other three rookies, with Anton De Pasquale finishing 18th and copping a points penalty for another clash with Michael Caruso.

Richie Stanaway battled suspension damage on his way to 21st and Todd Hazelwood had a wild ride after his Falcon shed its rear wing at Turn 1, getting back out to take 23rd.

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