The Debrief: Momentum, mayhem and minnows

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 31/08/2018
  • By Mitchell Adam

Triple Eight was the big winner as Supercars visited a new venue, The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia, last weekend.

The factory Holdens won both races around the new 4.95km circuit, Shane van Gisbergen taking the championship lead from Scott McLaughlin in the process.

An off weekend for McLaughlin was was just one of the talking points of the maiden OTR SuperSprint.


Triple Eight's straight-sets rout

Practice 1 was about as close as McLaughlin's Shell Ford got to a Red Bull Holden all weekend; Jamie Whincup 17th and 1.75 seconds off the pace and McLaughlin 18th and 1.80s adrift.

From there, Whincup grabbed a pair of ARMOR ALL Poles, a fourth on Saturday – after double-stacking behind van Gisbergen – and a win on Sunday.

Van Gisbergen took a victory and second, and McLaughlin a sixth and 10th from the two races, his team struggling to get its Falcons working on the harder tyre.

As a result, somebody other than McLaughlin now leads the points for the first time since the Phillip Island event four months ago.

It was a hefty points swing, too, van Gisbergen going from 89 behind to 19 ahead.

Red Bull HRT is also now more than 500 points up in the teams' championship, with Fabian Coulthard 14th each day in the other Shell Ford.

McLaughlin's deficit is hardly insurmountable with this much racing – including the whole PIRTEK Enduro Cup – left in 2018.

But Triple Eight has all of the momentum and heads to Sandown fresh from delivering a drubbing, with taking the teams' race-win record the icing on the cake.

Its chief rival is, meanwhile, regrouping from what it hopes is a one-off.

Never had so much fun

For the second time in as many events, drivers ventured into something of an unknown in Practice 1.

Following the Sydney Motorsport Park night race, Tailem Bend gave drivers a brand-new circuit to learn.

Whincup classed it as "ultra-technical" pre-event, then likened the challenge of putting an 18-corner lap together to that of Bathurst after practice on Friday.

The string of right-handers from Turns 7 to 10 looked a cracker, channeling the four-apex Turn 8 on the Istanbul circuit that was a short-lived Formula 1 venue.

The Bend tested drivers, with cars off in the scenery a pretty common sight through practice and qualifying.

Drivers kept things more in check during the races, but some spoke about dust and dirt making it one-line track.

The technical nature of the layout also amplified the gaps between the good and not-so-good cars, but the field will surely be closer next year.

Quali with a side of suspense

For a 15-minute session, there was a bit on during ARMOR ALL Qualifying on Saturday, and the hour or so beyond that.

Whincup led an all-Red Bull front row, but both drivers were the subject of post-session investigations.

In Whincup's case, it was for an unsafe rejoin from a spin at the penultimate corner.

Having ended up strewn across the track, Whincup's rejoin coincided with James Golding coming around the corner, Golding having to take evasive action.

Van Gisbergen had an awkward exchange with McLaughlin, initially having closed on the Shell Ford late in a lap.

He got past, and both completed a flying lap before McLaughlin – planning another – caught a slow van Gisbergen in the first sequence of corners.

It prompted DJR Team Penske to request an investigation into blocking.

In the end, both Whincup and van Gisbergen were cleared, with the latter and McLaughlin clearing the air on Sunday.

Stewards noted the yellow flags were out as Golding approached a stricken Whincup, with yellows also accounting for van Gisbergen's pace.

So near yet to far

Brad Jones Racing and Nissan Motorsport effectively shared the role as Triple Eight's closest challenger during the weekend.

Nissan was rewarded for its pace on Saturday, taking a double podium with Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso, before a tougher Sunday afternoon.

BJR again showed plenty of speed on a high-grip track surface, but left without any silverware.

Tim Slade was fastest in Practice 1 and third in Practice 2, and team-mate Nick Percat led the way in Practice 3.

While Nissan shone on Saturday, the BJR Commodores finished a subdued 11th and 12th.

Slade started third on Sunday and looked set to finish there, until running wide at Turn 1 late.

That handed the final podium spot to Erebus Motorsport's David Reynolds, a man whose weekend lacked highlights to that point.

Slade’s fourth, and fifth from 15th for Percat, moved BJR up to third in the teams' championship but was tinged with frustration.

Mixed fortunes for minnows

Life isn't easy for the single-car outfits in Supercars, especially those in their first year in the game.

23Red Racing and Matt Stone Racing, though, had very different weekends with Will Davison and Todd Hazelwood.

Davison took his Milwaukee Ford to seventh each day, in the strongest weekend yet for Phil Munday's operation.

He was right behind Mark Winterbottom and McLaughlin in fifth and sixth on Saturday, in the fight to be the top Falcon.

On Sunday, Davison took that accolade, with McLaughlin 10th and Tickford's lead finisher Chaz Mostert in 12th.

All the more impressive is that the new team is yet to hold a private test day, which changes next week with two days at Winton.

Matt Stone Racing basically treated Hazelwood's weekend as a test, given its pre-event change from ex-DJRTP Falcon to ex-Triple Eight VF Commodore.

After a tough first half of the year with a new-for-2018 package, MSR put its Falcon to one side and went back to the familiarity of Hazelwood's '17 Dunlop Super2 Series winner.

It didn't come with an immediate change of fortunes.

The Bigmate Holden started 28th and last each day and crossed the line 26th and 25th.

There's still a lot to learn for MSR in Supercars, and it will at least be hoping to build a solid bank of lessons before getting a Triple Eight ZB next year.

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