Townsville turned it on for the Supercars as it celebrated ten years of hosting the championship, but who shone and who took some shine off?
After a decade of racing in the tropics, many teams came in to the Townsville 400 round hoping to draw on that experience to bag a good result at the third street race of the year.
The two 200km races featured close racing, intelligent strategy work and an appearance from the safety car as the country’s 26 best drivers engaged in another championship changing street fight.
- Shane van Gisbergen headed in to Townsville with confidence after strong race pace in Darwin though his qualifying speed had let him down previously. The 2016 series champion quickly got his act together by starting from third in Saturday’s race, getting past championship leader and key rival Scott McLaughlin throughout the race. While he could’ve had a crack at the lead, second was good enough when you still finish ahead of your biggest threat. Sunday was an improvement across the board, snagging provisional pole, converting that to pole in the top ten shootout then going on to win the race despite late pressure from his team-mate. The consistency van Gisbergen has been showing in the races recently has strengthened his title ambitions, it’s just qualifying which he needs to focus on so he can fight at the front all race long.
- Jamie Whincup may be out of touch with the championship battle but the defending champ didn’t let that dampen his hopes of getting up the front. Before race one, Whincup had won nine out of the 19 races held at the Reid Park circuit, including the Sunday race in last year’s round. Starting on the front row, he made an early attack on McLaughlin then ran away into the distance, going on to win in typically commanding fashion. Sunday’s affair saw another front row start, this time having to play tail-gunner throughout the race to his team-mate though he pushed at the end after a safety car intervention. Second was good enough as Whincup tries to get back in the fight on the search for an eighth championship.
- Scott McLaughlin is still enjoying being the leader of the title chase, even after a round where he allowed his rivals to catch up again. The young Kiwi started things off well, taking pole position on Saturday and getting a good jump off the line to lead the opening lap. However, through the opening tour it was obvious that the #17 machine didn’t quite have the outright pace. McLaughlin let Whincup make an easy pass on the next lap and eventually let Van Gisbergen get the better of him. The final step of the podium was all he could muster but after Sunday’s shootout, he would’ve thought third was a tall order due to qualifying seventh. Despite being boxed in over the opening laps, a good strategy call from his team lifted him to effective third which is where he stayed for the remainder of the race. Going in to Ipswich, McLaughlin holds a 131 point lead over the hard-charging Van Gisbergen.
- Tickford Racing may have achieved a strong result on Sunday but the report card of the overall Townsville 400 weekend would be nothing to be proud of. Only one of its drivers (Mark Winterbottom) started in the top ten on Saturday, the others being out-qualified by the likes of Will Davison in an older Tickford Falcon. While both Winterbottom and Cam Waters finished in the top ten (sixth and eighth), a miscommunication saw Mostert stack behind Winterbottom under green flag conditions while Richie Stanaway’s pit stop under the safety car at the end saw the Falcon fitted with old tyres on the rear. The following expression session and laps of drifting around earned him a slap on the wrist from the team who made the stuff up in the first place. Sunday’s qualifying saw no cars start in the top ten but some vintage racing from Mostert promoted the 2014 Bathurst winner to fifth at the chequered flag. Waters finished ninth while Winterbottom struggled to 11th and Stanaway brought up the rear in 20th. When Tickford’s form slump began, it was expected to be nothing more than a flash in a pan but as previous rounds have shown, good results are the rarities now for the ex-factory squad.
- Michael Caruso has been enduring a season of hardship and his eternal struggle didn’t take a holiday in Townsville. His weekend was littered with problems, right from the first qualifying session to when he crashed out on Sunday. Issues in qualifying meant his best lap was only good enough for last on the grid. He retired as the green flag was shown to start the 200km race thanks to a battery issue, barely being able to break a sweat all day. He qualified better on Sunday, narrowly missing out on the top ten shootout. His pace during the race was lacking as he dropped to 19th before an incident with Anton de Pasquale saw the Nissan totalled. As the Erebus driver moved to make a pass, Caruso aggressively defended the spot, being rear ended and sent into the tyre wall. While de Pasquale was docked 35 points for the incident, the crash brought an early end to Caruso’s weekend.
- Simona De Silvestro found herself in the mix over the weekend’s 400km of racing, not finishing in the top 20 throughout either race and ending up in careless incidents. A crash unseen by the cameras with Todd Hazelwood caused little damage to either car but ended up with the Ford driver dislocating his elbow as De Silvestro then finished 25th, ahead of the retired Caruso. A strong qualifying effort for the second race saw her start 16th but a slip up on the opening lap caused her to make contact with Caruso, making for an awkward post-race debrief. A time penalty was given to her which meant she eventually finished in 22nd. Times are changing for De Silvestro who is still struggling in her second full-time year, despite talks that she may be replacing the outgoing Craig Lowndes at Triple Eight next year.
The championship stays in the sunshine state for the next round, held just outside Brisbane at Ipswich’s Queensland Raceway. As the home track for the northern teams, the simple paperclip layout has provided close racing over the years. last year it was Scott McLaughlin and Chaz Mostert who took the honours over the two races.