Shane van Gisbergen’s winning streak in the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship came to an end…
Supercars Race 13.
After heavy fog delayed the early schedule and forced the postponement of the Aussie Racing Cars race, the sun had poked through and burnt off the remaining mist during the morning support events. The dry warmer conditions led to a scramble in the final practice sessions as teams chased a dry set up for qualifying.
Scott McLaughlin pipped teammate Fabian Coulthard for the race 13 pole position, the first of two scheduled races at Winton raceway. The Nissans of Michael Caruso and Rick Kelly claimed the second row, with Scott Pye and Tim Slade next. Mark Winterbottom, Will Davison, Anton de Pasquale and Nick Percat rounded out the top 10. Triple 8 racing chased grip issues in their 3 cars as Jamie Whincup ended up the best of the trio in 12th place. Shane vanGisbergen was 14th and Craig Lowndes 24th.
“We went up with the rear spring at the start of the runs looking to try and kill the rear, but the rear of the car is really good. We’ve been working at it all weekend, unfortunately all three cars of ours aren’t as strong as we should be. So we have to sit down collectively and work out how to make a change for the race.”
Rick Kelly overcame a difficult week to post an unexpected win in the first race at Winton Raceway in Victoria. The Shell V Power team had locked out the front row of the grid, however it was an aggressive Nissan pair of Kelly and Caruso that charged for the lead on the run into the first corner, Kelly was almost eliminated when he became the meat in a Coulthard and Caruso sandwich as the field compressed for the first series of corners. Fabian Coulthard dropped behind both Nissans as a result.
Richie Stanaway and Jack LeBrocq came together at the exit of turn 4, which saw both cars spin off the track and then return to the pits for tyres. David Reynolds was caught out by the incident and then fell foul of Simona DeSilvestro and Todd Hazelwood shortly after. The Penrite Oils Erebus Commodore dropped a handful of laps as the damage was repaired. Anton De Pasquale took on the lead role in the second Erebus entry for the remainder of the race and was involved in a number of minor skirmishes as he battled for postion inside the top 10 for much of the race. However he eventually finished in 12th.
Scott McLaughlin quickly opened up a handy lead in the race and used the clean air to establish a lead that would not be forsaken during the pit stop sequence. McLaughlin was among a group that stopped inside the first quarter of the race, while Scott Pye and Shane vanGisbergen were two of the last to pit, just after half distance. The pair staged a late charge through the field and caught Coutlhard and Kelly. Their case was further advanced by a late Safety Car when Tim Blanchard’s excellent race was destroyed in the sand after contact with Simona DeSilvestro on lap 31.
At the restart it was Rick Kelly who jumped into the lead when McLaughlin ran wide at turn 3 and was swallowed up by Kelly, Pye, Coulthard and vanGisbergen. Kelly’s superior speed through turns 5-7 meant that Pye had to be content with 2nd. Kelly 1st, vanGisbergen 3rd, Couthard 4th and McLaughlin 5th.
For Rick Kelly it was his first win the Nissan Altima, just days after Nissan announced that its pulling out of the Virgin Australia Supercars category at the end of 2018.
“I’m trying to hold it all back”, Rick Kelly explained in the post race television interview. “It was pretty quiet on the radio, I think everyone’s pretty overwhelmed. I knew we were in a little bit of trouble with the Safety Car restart. Scotty was pretty straight, and I knew we had a lot of build up on the tyres, so I was hoping it wasn’t just us. Sure enough, it wasn’t. He had a big wobble through turn 1 and I got enough off my tyres to sneak inside him. I’m pretty proud of that.”
Scott Pye fancied his chances of a second Virgin Australia Supercars race win in the final laps as he closed on the leaders with much fresher tyres, but was left to contemplate his mid race dice with Richie Stanaway and a Nissan Altima with planty of speed when it mattered.
“The pace was awesome,” Scott said. “At the end I thought it was going to be easy to get to the front, I guess because of our tyre condition. But Rick was just so much stronger out of the sweeper and into turns 6 and 7. That’s really the only overtaking spot. For us, there’s a few things I want to work on, but I’m stoked with the result.”
Supercars Race 14
The Shell V Power team repeated the lock out of the front row for race 14 with Scott McLaughlin just over a tenth of a second faster than Fabian Coulthard. Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso were again the next best and took control of the second row of the grid. Chaz Mostert, Scott Pye, Shane vanGisbergen, Jamie Whincup, Tim Slade and Richie Stanaway completed the top 10. Mark Winterbottom finished 18th after contact with vanGisbergen on their respective out laps saw the Bottl-O Falcon launched momentarily airborne before running off the circuit at turn 5. Winterbottom later complained of steering issues with his car and laid the blame on vanGisbergen for the incident. An investigation found both drivers at fault with no further action taken.
“It’s great for the team at Shell V-Power Racing, another front row lock out, McLaughlin said.“Hopefully I don’t balls it up like I did yesterday and we can have a good race.”
McLaughlin probably wished for the opportunity to take back those words as the number 17 DJRTP car stalled on the line. Fabian Coulthard took the lead from Caruso and Kelly as the field headed towards turn 1. McLaughlin eventually settled into 8th, just behind vanGisbergen as Caruso, Kelly, Mostert and Pye fought for third place at the end of lap 1. Cameron Waters did not even make the start as he drove the Monster Energy Ford into the garage on the formation lap after a split axle led to a dnf in race 13. He eventually returned to the track 4 laps behind the field.
James Courtney, Anton de Pasquale, Jack Le Brocq all pitted at the end of lap 2. McLaughlin followed 2 laps later as the team tried to put the number 17 Falcon into clean air. James Courtney had contact with Anton dePasquale shortly after leaving the pits, which resulted in a trip through the grass for the Walkinshaw Andretti United Commodore. It turned out to be an eventful afternoon for Courtney, who had missed Friday practice with a virus that sent the driver to hospital for treatment. Courtney received further minor damage to his car after contact with Jack LeBrocq saw Courtney sideswipe the tyre barriers at turn 2. Race officials determined the neither incident warranted further action.
The move to pit McLaughlin early began to pay dividends for the team as the first round of pitstops continued. He leapfrogged Kelly, Pye, Whincup and Caruso into a net second place, although his pursuers all had much fresher rubber. By Lap 19 Coulthard held an 8.6 second lead over vanGisbergen as they ran a longer first stint. Coulthard handed the lead to vanGisbergen when he made his first stop on lap 21 and returned to the circuit ahead of McLaughlin and into the effective race lead. Shane vanGisbergen stopped on the following lap. The true complexion of the race was difficult to establish as teams ran a range of different fuel strategies; McLaughlin had taken a smaller fuel load than Coulthard, while vanGisbergen had taken on more fuel than either Shell V Power cars.
At the end of the first stops Coulthard led McLaughlin, Caruso, Pye, Whincup, Kelly Mostert, Slade, vanGisbergen and de Pasquale.
Kelly, de Pasquale and James Courtney were amongst the first to make their final stops. McLaughlin was also in for an early pitstop. He was effectively forced to do so by the relatively small fuel load taken on in his first stop. The strategy had helped return McLaughlin to the front, though he had to manage tyres and fuel for a much longer final stint than those around him. Chaz Mostert dropped back to the tail of the top 10 as Tim Slade and then Shane vanGisbergen took places from the Supercheap Auto driver. At the other end of the pack, Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom fought for 22nd place. David Reynold’s home race turned into something of a nightmare as a refueling rig problem, coupled with Saturday’s incident and mechanical issues saw him well down the order.
Rick Kelly took over the lead Nissan mantle when he passed Michael Caruso after their stops. Richie Stanaway also gained positions from Will Davison and Chaz Mostert in what had turned into the Kiwi drivers best performance in the 2018 Championship to date. As light rain began to fall, the track was declared ‘wet‘ by race control, though drivers continued to run on slicks. Fabian Coulthard and Shane vanGisbergen were amongst the last to make their second stops. Coulthard managed to regain the race lead while vanGisbergen found himself behind McLaughlin.
McLaughlin’s second place soon came under threat from vanGisbergen, who had much fresher rubber on the Red Bull Commodore. Shane moved past McLaughlin as light rain began to fall on the circuit. Garth Tander spun the GRM Commodore at turn 8 after contact with James Courtney. After being on the receiving end of two incidents earlier without penalty, Courtney received a 15 second post race penalty for the contact.
Shane vanGisbergen took advantage of his fresher tyres and made some in roads into the 7.5 second lead enjoyed by Coulthard as the race entered the final third. The gap dropped to just over 6 seconds as Coulthard fought to maintain his advantage, however it blew out to over 9 seconds as vanGisbergen eventually settled for 2nd.
Fabian Coulthard went on to win by 11 seconds from Shane vanGisbergen and Scott McLaughlin in a Kiwi trifecta. It was Coutlhard’s first victory in almost nine months. Richie Stanaway also contributed to the New Zealand celebrations with a 9th place finish. Rick Kelly added to his Saturday victory with 4th place, from Caruso, Pye, Slade, Whincup, Stanaway and Mostert.
“It was fantastic. I can’t thank my guys enough,” said Coulthard, who became the eighth different winner in 14 races during 2018. “The Shell V Power car was on rails today, it was a pleasure to drive. I’m not sure what happened to Scotty, it was unfortunate. It would have been nice to have two Shell Ford cars come through the first two corners one and two, but it wasn’t to be.
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