After a short turnaround from Hidden Valley, the V8 Supercars Championship headed to the Reid Park circuit in Townsville, still escaping the frosty weather snapping the south of Australia. However, on track, it was Frosty that escaped his competitors, winning back-to-back races and stretching out his dominant lead in the championship standings. For his team, things got better and better while his championship rivals missed their marks.
Prodrive Racing Australia kept up its domination of qualifying on Saturday when Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom locked out the front of the grid with fellow stablemate David Reynolds putting the Bottle-O entry third. Wilson Security Racing GRM’s Scott McLaughlin found his feet and lined up alongside Reynolds, while DJR Team Penske’s Scott Pye dropped from first to fifth on the last qualifying lap, but would be pleased to start so high up the grid. Jamie Whincup, James Courtney, Fabian Coulthard, Jason Bright and Will Davison completed the top ten.
Off the line, the three PRA cars battled it out down into the turn two hairpin, looking for the edge on each other. They were able to get around cleanly as the rest of the field duked it out for the lap. Amazingly, around the tight street track, everyone got through the first lap cleanly. Early on, it was evident that there was going to be a three-way fight between Winterbottom, Reynolds and Mostert for the win, with the difference between the team-mates being their individual strategies. Winterbottom took a risky strategy, keeping on his soft compound tyres for seven laps longer than Mostert. While this helped his speed early on, it was a gamble given he’d have to reuse the rubber in his last stint. For the second round of pitstops, PRA forced the hand of the other teams, pitting Mostert with 40 laps to go. Looking good for a podium finish a suspension failure then ruined the end of Mostert’s race, making him lose places and come home eighth. This left his team-mates to fight to the finish with things heating up in the last ten laps. Reynolds applied intense pressure to the back of the #5 Ford and it seemed like he would get past. However, Winterbottom put up a stern defence and came home 0.3 seconds ahead to nab his fifth win of the season. Coulthard completed the podium with McLaughlin coming home a strong fourth for Volvo for his best finish of the season so far. Scott Pye yet again showed impressive pace for DJR Team Penske, finishing an impressive fifth.
For the first time since the opening round in Adelaide, Sunday’s grid was sorted out with a Top 10 qualifying session. In the provisional qualifying session, it was Winterbottom that came out on top, beating Mostert and Reynolds for the last starting spot. McLaughlin, Coulthard, van Gisbergen, Todd Kelly, Holdsworth and Heimgartner would join them in the final session. Craig Lowndes could only qualify a lowly 23rd, making his afternoon drive even harder. In the shootout, it was McLaughlin in his Volvo that starred, pipping Mostert to the pole. Van Gisbergen, Reynolds, Winterbottom, Coulthard, Heimgertner, Kelly, Holdsworth and Davison completed the ten.
With McLaughlin eager to capitalise on his first pole of the season, he managed a perfect start into the hairpin, holding off Mostert and Reynolds. The Bottle-O driver got past his team-mate and was soon close to the rear bumper of the Volvo. The pressure was eventually alleviated when Reynolds passed McLaughlin with a clean move. Further back, it was Winterbottom that was again making impressive progress, slicing up the field and holding station in fourth. Mostert was the next to get past McLaughlin, making it a PRA one-two. Winterbottom was then held up by the Volvo driver, pitting early to get into clean air. He elected to take on a large amount of fuel, allowing him to take a shorter hit late in the race. A majority of the field took their stops a few laps later and soon after, strategies were thrown into the air when McLaughlin had a power steering failure, dropping debris on the road and bringing out the safety car for the first time. All drivers that had not yet stopped elected to come in under the safety car, potentially changing their strategies. Coulthard was forced to serve a drive-through penalty after spinning his rear wheels during his pit stop. The PRA drivers continued to battle out front until the next round of stops. Mostert made an error after his stop, locking up his tyres at turn two while trying to avoid the rear of Reynolds. This flat-spotted his tyres, causing headaches for him near the end of the race. Winterbottom stopped a few laps later and emerged just behind Reynolds. Despite being on seven lap younger soft tyres, he was unable to get past the #55 and backed off to allow his tyres to “relax”. A few minutes later and he made another attack, this time successfully after Reynolds locked a tyre. From then, it was smooth sailing home as Winterbottom took his sixth race win of the season. A late charging James Courtney rubbed panels with team-mate Tander but unlike the previous two rounds, the contact did not result in an accident between the two. Courtney on good tyres was able to get past Reynolds and take the second podium step. Tander finished fourth while Whincup was able to finish a quiet fifth, beating Mostert to the flag.
Castrol Edge Townsville 400 Winners and Losers
With many criticising the Ford drivers, saying that their car can’t perform on street tracks, it’s now evident that the Falcon FG-X is an all-round machine that can win on any style of track. More than that, nine out of the 17 races this year have been won by Prodrive cars. This, combined with his ever increasing confidence, means that Winterbottom has a better chance than ever to take out his maiden championship this year.
- Mark Winterbottom has now notched up 33 career victories and now has a 248 point lead ahead of Craig Lowndes in the championship. For the past few years, this has been the point of the season where he’s faded away so it’s clear that this is his best chance to win. He keeps winning and his championship rivals keep fading away: what more does he need?
- David Reynolds may not have won a race this weekend but he claimed two podium finishes, bringing him up to fourth in the championship standings, just twenty-five points away from Lowndes. There have been frequent rumours circling the paddock about his future with PRA. However, with the consistency and maturity that he’s now showing, Tim Edwards will have a difficult time removing Dave from the Bottle-O Falcon.
- Scott McLaughlin may have had a DNF in Sunday’s race but that was through no fault of his own. Despite the obvious woes of his season, the young Kiwi keeps coming back round after round with a smile on his face. A solid fourth in Saturday’s race as well as a pole on Sunday means that McLaughlin obviously hasn’t given up just yet on reaching the top step of the podium this year.
- Erebus Motorsport looked like it was making positive moves a few rounds ago but that form has now faded away. Ash Walsh finished 22nd and 23rd on Saturday and Sunday respectively while team-mate Will Davison came home in twelfth and twenty-fourth. Unfortunate strategy calls and a general lack of pace are hurting their chances of getting up to the front of the field again.
- Tim Blanchard and the rest of the field will be amazed if he gets a top ten finish this year. Unlike his team-mate Nick Percat, Blanchard seems to be struggling at Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport this year and rarely breaks into the top 15. Finishing 21st on both races of the weekend, he’ll be lucky if the Cooldrive money keeps him in his seat next year.
- Red Bull Racing Australia may have impressive race pace but without qualifying speed, the team can never take the fight to the drivers at the sharp end of the field. They’re currently in an unusually long form slump, consistently finishing behind their main rivals despite having a smaller team to operate. If Whincup wants to win championship number seven and Lowndes wants to win his first in many moons, they’ll have to pump the team up and get up to the pointy end.
The paddock next moves to Queensland Raceway in Ipswich, the home testing track for many Gold Coast/Brisbane based outfits.