The Newcastle Debrief: A final twist

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 30/11/2019
  • By Stefan Bartholomaeus

A controversial Supercars season ended in Newcastle, where the Red Bull Holden Racing Team took the last battle, but Shell V-Power Racing won the war. looks back at five talking points from the weekend – and season – that was.

A Shell shock

Scott McLaughlin had the title secured ahead of Newcastle, but still entered the weekend under the spotlight as the fallout from Shell V-Power Racing’s Bathurst breaches continued.

McLaughlin was the target of some serious sledging from rivals through the traditional media, on social media and directly, as he continued to defend suggestions he’d won a tainted title.

On track, McLaughlin and teammate Fabian Coulthard went about securing the teams’ title, fending off a late-season charge from the Red Bull Holden Racing Team.

At the Gala Awards on Monday night, McLaughlin described the weekend as mentally tougher than the previous years’ title deciders, calling for all drivers to take a better attitude into 2020.

But there was one final twist; McLaughlin voted Drivers’ Driver by his peers – an accolade that underscored the 26-year-old’s brilliant year, no matter the controversies it included.

“I’ve got more friends than I thought I had!” he quipped on stage at the Gala. It was a fitting full stop on a season that, for better or worse, was all about McLaughlin.

Flying finish

It was meanwhile a case of what might have been for the Red Bull HRT, which ended the year with seven consecutive race wins, but still fell short of any major silverware.

Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup were second and third in the drivers’ standings respectively; their seasons having come alive following a parity change in August.

Whether that tweak evened the playing field or had tipped the balance in the Commodore’s favour was widely argued but, either way, it was a hell of a fightback from where they’d been.

In all, Triple Eight failed to take either the drivers’, teams’ or Bathurst crowns for the first time since 2005, but kept a 15-year run of having a driver in the top two in the standings alive.

Newcastle brought a pole and a win each for the two drivers; van Gisbergen too good on Saturday as a late-race mistake from Whincup pretty much ended the teams’ title fight.

The seven-time champion didn’t stay down for long though, dominating proceedings on Sunday in a strong statement to the field ahead of the break.

The Farewell Cup

For many, Newcastle marked the end of an era, with several key farewells up and down pitlane.

Garry Rogers didn’t disappoint with his Sunday grid get-up, pictured above, but sadly it was not the sort of weekend – or season – his team wanted to go out on.

It was a similar story for the Nissan Altima, which exits the category after seven seasons, and Simona De Silvestro, who heads back to Switzerland after three.

Walkinshaw Andretti United meanwhile said goodbye to both its drivers – Scott Pye and James Courtney – on a weekend where the squad continued its recent upswing in form.

Pye was particularly outstanding, brushing aside a headline-making social media spat with McLaughlin, a stomach bug and a qualifying crash to take a pair of top sixes.

The most emotional farewell though appeared to be that for Courtney, who after nine seasons at Walkinshaw, held back tears as he thanked the team for its toil.

Tim Slade had a trophy to show for what was his final weekend at Brad Jones Racing, and likely his last start as a full-timer, capping a strong weekend with a third on Sunday.

Squad goals

WAU’s weekend ended on a lighthearted note, with Tickford Racing mechanics ‘delivering’ Chaz Mostert to its garage on Sunday evening.

With Mostert's WAU deal not officially announced until the following Tuesday, there’d been no publicity around his final weekend at Tickford, but it was a significant occasion all the same.

Mostert’s final Tickford outing ended with a sixth-place finish but wasn’t without drama; a late dive on teammate Cameron Waters so nearly providing a final chapter in their unlikely war.

Promisingly for Tickford, Waters lifted his game in the second half of 2019, and his performance in Newcastle, which included topping Sunday qualifying, gives hope he can fill Mostert’s void.

Having struggled in 2018, the new Mustang provided Tickford a platform for a vastly improved season and, while it only produced one win, there was plenty to be proud of.

Tickford ended the campaign with all four drivers in the top 10 of the drivers’ championship, each having contributed to its total 22 podiums.

Stanaway’s swansong

From the moment GRM announced its impending exit in October, its drivers James Golding and Richie Stanaway looked likely to be sitting on the bench in 2020.

Golding is almost certain to land a co-drive next year as he takes aim at a full-time return in 2021, while Stanaway was thought to be eyeing a similar path.

That took a twist on Sunday night when he told media he was planning to take the coming months to reassess whether he wanted to continue in the sport at all.

Then just hours later, he announced on social media that his career is at an end, emphatically declaring it was “time to call it a day”.

That was a surprise even from the enigmatic and reclusive Kiwi, who entered Supercars with a strong international pedigree and huge promise, before enduring two nightmare seasons.

Hopefully Supercars hasn’t seen the last of Stanaway, who at just 28, has plenty of time to launch a return.

Stay In The Know
Sign up to the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship Newsletter