MEDIA RELEASE/Toyota Gazoo Racing New Zealand - Photo: TGRNZ & Hampton Downs FB Shane van…
BP Ultimate Sydney Supersprint Throws Surprises in Races 8 and 9
Nick Percat ended Jamie Whincup’s parade with a late charge to victory in race 8 of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship. Whincup had earlier taken pole position in what was set to be his 500th start in the Supercars Championship and dominated the early stage of the race. A combination of tyre management strategies played out in favour of Percat in his Dunlop sponsored BJR Commodore, who prospered from fresher tyres to storm up from sixth on the grid. On the other hand, Shane vanGisbergen and Fabian Coulthard tumbled down the order after starting the race on tired rubber.
As the race began, Jamie Whincup took full advantage of his pole position and made a perfect start. Shane vanGisbergen suffered from wheel spin and was quickly embroiled in a battle to stave off the two Shell V-Power Mustangs at turn 1. Coulthard and vanGisbergen lost places to Cameron Waters and David Reynolds. At the end of the first lap a visible 2 second gap had been established between the top four of Whincup, McLaughlin, Waters, Reynolds to vanGisbergen in fifth.
Nick Percat had nursed his tyres up to temperature on the opening lap and then began to pick off the leader as the race progressed. From sixth on the grid he snatched second place from McLaughlin at turn 5 on the sixth lap of the race. Whincup held a comfortable two-second lead at that stage only to find a relentless Percat on his rear bumper a few laps later. After a look at turn 6 Percat slipped past Whincup for the lead at turn 4 just short of half distance. Whincup inherited the lead when Percat stopped for tyres on lap 15.
Whincup stopped a lap later for two tyres and retained the effective race lead through a marginally shorter time in the pits. The leader’s advantage was short lived as Percat closed in. The bright yellow Dunlop liveried BJR Commodore dove inside the leader at turn 4 on lap 23 and took control of the race. Whincup held a sizeable gap to Waters, who had been joined by Reynolds, McLaughlin and Mostert in a battle Royale for third.
Waters came under a sustained attack from the following trio as he battled with tyre degradation on the Monster Energy Mustang. At one stage Waters found himself squeezed on the approach to the hairpin by Reynolds and Mostert but somehow managed to survive for another lap as McLaughlin lurked close behind. The #17 Shell V-Power Mustang eventually moved into third with an inside pass at turn 6. Waters tried to fight back on the run around Corporate Hill and twice made contact with McLaughlin. The first resulted in a small plume of smoke as wheels touched, the second led to a pronounced dent in the rear bodywork of the Shell V-Power Mustang, with McLaughlin fortunate that the contact did not upset the car beyond control.
“I was having so much fun out there but had nothing left in the tank,” Waters said later. “I don’t know if it was rank stupidity at Corporate Hill but we all got through.”
Nick Percat went on to win his first race since Adelaide in 2016. Whincup finished in a lonely second with third placed McLaughlin a further 14 seconds behind. Mostert, Reynolds, Waters, vanGisbergen, Winterbottom, Courtney and Heimgartner completed the top 10.
“It’s amazing, I can’t thank Brad and the team enough,” said an elated Nick Percat after the race. “It’s been longer than I wanted since that last win. I had the better tyres and couldn’t believe it when I went past Shane early in the race.”
Third place was a good result for Scott McLaughlin who battled through the early stages of the race on worn rubber and then worked his way through the field for third.
“It was wild, they were battling and it was crazy with rubbing and stuff, but we just have to do the best we can,” McLaughlin said. “With this format we aren’t going to win every race and it is quite difficult to fight the guys with fresher tyres.”
Mark Skaife and Craig Lowndes suggested in the pre-race commentary that the final race of the BP Ultimate Sydney Supersprint had further variables to consider. As mid afternoon approached dark clouds began to roll across the circuit with the slight chance of rain. The cooler conditions, coupled with the previous races had left a good trail of rubber across the racing line, which meant better grip levels and lower tyre wear for the final sprint race of the weekend. As many teams were searching for the best from their used tyre bank, the changed conditions came as a welcome relief.
Scott McLaughlin was once again on pole position for the final race and made no mistakes when the lights went out. Jamie Whincup made an equally impressive start and the pair ran side-by-side towards turn 1. Neither driver gave an inch as Whincup moved slightly ahead of the Shell V-Power Mustang, though McLaughlin maintained the inside line for turn 2. It was there that the issue was finally decided in the reigning champion’s favour.
Lee Holdsworth and Nick Percat came together at the first turn with the steering wheel jolted from Percat’s grasp by an impact that had the Dunlop sponsored Commodore momentarily on two wheels. Further back there was serious Jostling amongst the mid-pack that continued throughout the opening lap of the race.
As in the opening race of the weekend, Scott McLaughlin held a considerable lead as the field completed the first of 32 laps. Whincup was next, followed by vanGisbergen, Waters, Hazelwood, Holdsworth, Reynolds, Percat, Coulthard and Fullwood. McLaughlin continued to stretch his advantage as Whincup appeared to hold up a tight group that included vanGisbergen, Waters, Hazelwood, Reynolds, Holdsworth and Percat. Further contact between Holdsworth and Percat at the final turns saw the pair joined by Bryce Fullwood in a three wide entry to the front straight. Holdsworth maintained his place as Percat weaved left to hold out Fullwood down the main straight.
Hazelwood eventually displaced Waters from third in a passing manoeuvre that began at turn 4 and continued through turn 5 and 6. Mclaughlin had settled into a rhythm with a two second lead over Whincup, which he maintained while trying to preserve his tyres at the same time. Cameron Waters dropped further down the field when pushed wide on worn tyres at the hairpin. Percat, Reynolds, Fullwood and Coulthard all moved ahead as Waters tried to recover. The Monster Energy Mustang then stopped at the end of the lap for fresher tyres.
Jamie Whincup was the first of the front runners to stop on lap 14 after losing time to McLaughlin, who had etched out a 4.8 second gap. McLaughlin and vanGisbergen stopped on the next lap, with Todd Hazelwood taking over lead of the race. McLaughlin’s advantage proved to be critical as he took a longer stop while all four wheels were replaced. The #17 Mustang returned to the track with the effective race lead from Whincup and Reynolds as Hazelwood continued to head the timesheets.
Hazelwood and Holdsworth were amongst the last to stop and dropped out of the top 10. Mark Winterbottom closed on David Reynolds by lap 20 and compromised each other’s lap times as they battled for the final podium position. Lee Holdsworth was the one to watch as he closed on the battle with four fresh tyres. His lap times were consistently over a second quicker than those ahead and he swept past vanGisbergen, Winterbottom and then Reynolds on lap 23 for third. Todd Hazelwood was less successful on his final set of tyres and was unable to match the pace of Holdsworth in the Truck Assist Mustang.
Lee Holdsworth continued to attack and caught second placed Jamie Whincup on lap 25. He moved into second with a clean pass at turn two and then began to charge after race leader McLaughlin. After taking just over a second from the leader over the following laps, McLaughlin managed to rally and maintain a safe gap to the end of the race.
Scott McLaughlin claimed his second win of the weekend and extended his lead in the 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, while Lee Holdsworth finished second for his first podium in over a year. Jamie Whincup held on for third. David Reynolds, Mark Winterbottom, Shane vanGisbergen, Anton DePasquale, Todd Hazelwood, Nick Percat and Bryce Fullwood rounded out the top 10 finishers. Fabian Coulthard stopped at turn 9 on the final lap after suffering a driveline failure.
Scott McLaughlin praised the changes made to his Mustang overnight.
“The car was so much better on the tyres that race,” Scott Mclaughlin stated. “It’s nice to improve and to continually make the car better. It has been a tough time for everyone and there is nothing better than revving the engine and getting out there.”
Lee Holdsworth encouraged by his second place, especially after an incident at the start of the final race.
“It is always good to be the one attacking at the end. It was pretty hairy at the start after contact with Percat and got the car onto two wheels. But when you’ve got good tyres it makes the passing easy. The start of the year hasn’t been a great one for obvious reasons.”
Third placed Jamie Whincup couldn’t match the pace of McLaughlin’s Shell V-Power Mustang on Sunday and that his Red Bull Holden Racing Team had some work ahead of them before Winton Raceway.
“Car 17 was just too fast today,” Whincup conceded. “We made it easy for them. The format is great and the best strategy is to be the fastest and we have to find more pace for later in the race. We’ve got some work to do.”
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