What the race proved was that The Bend wasn’t the benign circuit many had labelled it. While a race engineer’s nightmare, it became a driver’s playground, with the front-runners turning up the wick.
The easy statistic to forget from the race was that it marked Chaz Mostert’s first pole position for Walkinshaw Andretti United.
Mostert’s advantage lasted little more than a few seconds, with championship leader Scott McLaughlin claiming an early lead after Mostert bogged down.
Mostert’s poor start enabled the Red Bull Holdens to eye the lead; Jamie Whincup, whose title charge had fallen away, made a lunge on McLaughlin at the back of the circuit.
McLaughlin leads the start
Seldom do you see frontrunners come to blows. It hasn’t yet happened in 2021, and it took until the 25th race of 2020 for it to happen.
The Turn 17 incident saw Whincup slapped with a 15-second time penalty, with McLaughlin dropping to 18th.
Fabian Coulthard, celebrating his 200th round start, had vaulted to fourth, with Shane van Gisbergen taking the lead.
On the 18th lap of 24, Tickford Racing’s Jack Le Brocq, who had started seventh, challenged van Gisbergen for the lead.
WATCH: MCLAUGHLIN TURNS HOLDSWORTH
However, eager to repeat his Sydney Motorsport Park triumph, Le Brocq ran wide and opened the door to Coulthard, who duly took second.
All the while, McLaughlin had fought his way back to the front; armed with serious pace, coupled with the fighting in the lead pack, he was just under two seconds off the lead with four laps remaining.
Coulthard cleared Le Brocq and van Gisbergen, and was forced to defy the former for the win, which was his only victory of 2020.
For McLaughlin, a move on Lee Holdsworth ended in disaster, with the #5 Truck Assist Tickford Mustang facing the wrong way.
Holdsworth faces the wrong way
For the second time of the day, a title front-runner copped a time penalty, McLaughlin demoted to 15th over the contact.
Among the chaos rose a new star, with Mostert’s rookie teammate Bryce Fullwood making it to the podium.
Five of the top 10 finishers started outside the top 10; Fullwood had started 13th, fourth-placed Andre Heimgartner 10th, fifth-placed Cameron Waters 11th, seventh-placed Scott Pye 17th, and 10th-placed Nick Percat 15th.
Asked of his incident with McLaughlin, Whincup said: “We were racing, you know? He made a little error the corner before, of course I was going to go down the inside.
WATCH: LE BROCQ ATTACKS COULTHARD
“[I] don’t like to see two cars in the grass. He was about to spin so I opened-up the steering and straightened him up, hoping we could keep going.
“The penalty is harsh but it’s not harsh, I would have probably made the same decision if I was upstairs.
“It’s racing. I’m not going to hand it to him on a plate. We’re going to go hard to try and get some points back and unfortunately it’s not our day.”
McLaughlin, who believed the move on Holdsworth was “on”, added: “I knew [Whincup] was going to have a crack, I tried to give him the room to do it and obviously he must have hit the inside and locked a wheel and hit me.
Coulthard celebrates an unlikely win
“I pretty much knew he was probably going to be penalised after that so it was about me trying to maximise what I had from then on and I felt like we were doing that.”
Holdsworth thought differently: “I think [McLaughlin’s] driving in desperation for some reason.
“I don’t know why he would, he’s got the championship nearly in the bag, so it’s a bit disappointing.”
Rising above the chaos was Coulthard, who scored a first win in 41 races. To next weekend’s event, it remains his most recent race win.
WATCH: TOP THREE DRIVERS REACT TO ALL-TIME CLASSIS
“41 [races] is a long time ago and it's my 200th round start as well, so to get a win is awesome,” the Kiwi said.
"I can’t thank my guys [enough], little Marky [Fenning, engineer] got my car good so we bided our time there at the end.”
Who will strike the first Tailem Bend blow next weekend? The Repco Supercars Championship field will return to The Bend Motorsport Park for the OTR SuperSprint across May 7-9. Tickets are on sale now.
The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo with highlights on 7 and 7 Plus.