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Race 27 Repco Supercars Championship Vailo 500.
Cameron Waters may have claimed victory in the battle on the streets of Adelaide, but it was Brodie Kostecki who won the war in the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship.
There was an air of uncertainty as the cars lined up on the grid for the 78 lap race.
Could Brodie Kostecki stand firm in the face of a much anticipated onslaught from his title protagonists? Or would reigning champion and Supercars master, Shane van Gisbergen bridge the gap to provide the ultimate title showdown on the final day and last race of the season?
The answer was short and sharp, yes and no.
It took just three corners and a series of unfortunate events to decide the issue in dramatic circumstances.
As the lights faded to signal the start of Race 27, it was Kostecki who took the lead, having muscled David Reynolds to the right side of the track and gain the better line into the Senna Chicane. Thomas Randle had slotted into third from Anton De Pasquale, Cameron Waters and a slow starting van Gisbergen in seventh.
Brown had a better exit from Turn 2 than the Shell V-Power driver and moved alongside at the approach to Turn three. The Coca Cola Racing by Erebus Camaro had half a bonnet ahead of De Pasquale at the apex of the corner, but was on the wrong side of the track.
As they exited the corner a touch between the pair pushed Brown into the outside wall a heft impact that buckled the front half of the car.
Waters was next in line and narrowly avoided the damaged Erebus Camaro. Van Gisbergen sat immediately behind the Monster Energy Mustang and had no vision of the accident ahead. The Red Bull Ampol Racing Camaro glanced the rear of Brown’s car, tearing the right rear wheel from the Coca Cola Racing by Erebus Camaro and breaking the left front suspension from the #97.
Shane van Gisbergen tried to nurse his damaged beast back to the garage, though it was a lost cause. He parked his car by the side of the road, with the Championship all but gone.
When the race resumed some four laps later, it was Kostecki ahead of a gaggle of Ford Mustangs as Reynolds, Randle, Waters and Mostert.
Seven of the top ten places at that time were held by the blue oval, a heartening moment for Ford fans after the parity tribulations of 2023. In reality it may well reflect a more even playing field, given the loss of two of the front running Camaros on the opening lap.
Kostecki maintained the lead for the next ten laps until the persistent pressure from Reynolds finally yielded success for the Penrite Racing Mustang. A better drive on the exit of Turn 8 gave Reynolds the run into the Turn 9 hairpin and the lead changed hands.
With one eye on the championship, Kostecki was not about to steer across the front of the golden Grove Mustang.
Randle repeated the move on Lap 20, while Waters did so shortly after to snare third.
The leading quartet remained unchanged throughout the remainder of the race, save for the two round of pit stops that shuffled the order momentarily.
As the race unfolded it became a race within two. David Reynolds held the upper hand through the middle stint of the race, but it was Waters who grabbed the lead in the Ken Block tribute livery on Lap 41 as the final round of pit stops beckoned.
Waters made his final stop on Lap 52 and Reynolds responded on the following lap.
It proved to be the decisive moment in the race.
Reynolds returned to the circuit barely metres ahead of a fast closing Waters. The pair ran side-by-side into the Senna Chicane with Reynolds forced onto the painted ripple strip. That combination of cold tyres and less grip gave the advantage to Waters, who duly took the lead.
Less than a second separated the pair across the final 23 laps of the race. Reynolds was never quite close enough to make another challenge and shadowed the Monster Energy Mustang to the line.
Thomas Randle made it a podium trifecta for Ford fans, while Chaz Mostert and Broc Feeney moved ahead of Kostecki for fourth and fifth respectively.
Davison, Courtney, Heimgartner and Pye rounded out the top 10.
As Cameron Waters completed a burnout that Block himself would have appreciated, all eyes focussed on the Coca Cola Racing by Erebus pit bay. Betty Klimenko led the way in congratulating Kostecki on his and Erebus Racing’s first Supercars championship crown with a liberal sprinkling of tears.
Asked afterwards if the title win meant an all-out attack for victory in the final race of the year, Kostecki was adamant that he had tried to win Race 27.
The others were just a little too fast and there were things that needed a tweak or two in the #99.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” Kostecki said.
“You don’t want to win a championship when your other contender has been knocked out of the race. But it has been a whirlwind of a year because we have worked so hard to do what we have done today.”
The race win was also an emotional time for Waters, who had not won in Adelaide before at a track he considers somewhat of a second home.
“It was awesome to win on the Gold Coast, but to win here in Adelaide, it’s probably one of my favourite races of the year, the fans are amazing,” Waters told Supercars media.
“To win with the Ken Block livery and blow the rear tyres off it was very, very special. I’m pretty pumped.”
Whilst the driver’s championship has been decided, the team’s title is still on the line and Shane van Gisbergen is determined to finish his time in Supercars on a high.
“Firstly, congratulations to Brodie (Kostecki) and the entire Erebus team for their championship win.” van Gisbergen told Red Bull Ampol Racing media.
“It’s pretty deflating the way today’s race ended, but that’s the way these things happen sometimes.”
“It would be nice to finish off the year with a good result. Broc did a fantastic job and managed to close the gap in the Teams’ Championship, so that’s our full focus tomorrow.”
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