Night racing returned to Australian soil for the first time in over 20 years but who thrived and who wilted under the lights in Sydney?
A 300km, single driver race around Sydney Motorsport Park, the race was built up as an event rather than a race but a racing revolution nonetheless for a track which has struggled to get punters through the gates in years gone by.
Going up against the football codes in the middle of winter with a race starting past 7pm on Saturday night, Supercars was criticised for the planning of the event. However, when the car parks were at capacity with two hours until race start and over 34,000 fans in attendance, it’s hard to call the Sydney SuperNight 300 anything other than a resounding success.
As the longest single-driver event in the history of the championship, the cool tempuratures gave drivers a repreive from the usual sweat-fest though the concentration required to drive for just over two hours with limited light was draining nonetheless.
With 300 points on offer for one race, it will be seen as a truly championship defining round as the results drew a line under the championship battle which has been playing out since Adelaide.
- Shane van Gisbergen will be remembered as not only a series champion but also the first winner of the Sydney SuperNight 300 race, taking advantage of a late race safety car to clinch his second win on the trot. While the Triple Eight driver seemed to struggle in practice, his qualifying pace was solid, taking the third spot on the grid. A good start and an aggressive opening lap saw him up to second and remaining there for a majority of the race, despite copping a buckled rim and dropping time to race leader Scott McLaughlin. A late appearance of the safety car thanks to Todd Hazelwood’s rear wing failure came just at the right point as the Kiwi hadn’t yet taken his final stop. On fresher tyres, he got past team-mate Craig Lowndes and soon harassed championship rival McLaughlin, taking the lead and disappearing into the distance. Slowing down to create a form finish with team-mate Jamie Whincup, van Gisbergen took the chequered flag and 300 points in a crucial race to keep his hopes for a second title very much alive. Three wins in the last five races alongside two second place finishes, van Gisbergen and McLaughlin’s title battle is set to go down to the wire.
- Jamie Whincup may have qualified below par but a consistent race as well as the safety car played into his hands, letting the reigning champion play the team game to take home a one-two for Triple Eight and getting in between his team-mate and their main rival. Just like van Gisbergen, he struggled in pre-qualifying but made ammends for it in the proper sessions, ending up fifth on the grid ahead of the 300km epic race. With pace to burn early on, he sliced his way up into podium contention and stayed up there for a majority of the race, seemingly only jumping out of the top three when Craig Lowndes jumped everyone with the undercut in his final pit stop with 23 laps remaining. Whincup was lucky not to be hurt by the safety car, having to stack behind van Gisbergen in the pits but their gap to Chaz Mostert behind meant he was safe when he emerged. On good tyres, he easily made his way past Lowndes, whose own chance of victory was hampered by the safety car appearance. Whincup then set about being a menace to McLaughlin, eventually getting the move done and checking out up the road. By putting himself between van Gisbergen and McLaughlin, he let his team-mate close the points gap down by a further 18 points while the seven time series champion is over a round and a half behind the title lead.
- Scott McLaughlin was unfortunate not to convert his 11th pole of the season to a historic win under the lights in Sydney though can take solace in the fact that he brought the car home straight and with some silverware in the boot. The current championship leader topped all bar the first practice session in the lead up to the race, breaking the lap record and being the first driver to go sub-1:28 around the Gardner Circuit in a Supercar in the final qualifying session. With team-mate Fabian Coulthard starting alongside him on the grid, McLaughlin led off the start and was starting to streak away in the race, but was kept under pressure from fellow Kiwi van Gisbergen. He extended his lead throughout the race and only lost it to Lowndes who jumped him with a shorter fuel fill though McLaughlin retook the place at the next round of stops. Unable to switch on his tyres in the final stint, it looked like McLaughlin would lose the spot to Lowndes, before the safety car came out. Having already made his final stop, the safety car’s late appearance played into the hands of Red Bull’s van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup, who were yet to make their final stops. With the two Red Bull cars on fresher tyres, McLaughlin put up a valiant fight to keep van Gisbergen behind but after a thrilling battle ran wide into the marbles at turn three in the closing stages, relinquishing the lead to his championship rival. Losing second to Whincup a few laps later, he came home third but still remains at the top, a healthy 89 points clear of van Gisbergen as the Series heads to The Bend in South Australia.
- Walkinshaw Andretti United had every chance and were in prime position to take home a big bag of points in Sydney but two identical failures for James Courtney and Scott Pye meant it was an early pack up for the ex-factory Holden squad. Qualifying was good for Pye, doing well in the final session to take sixth on the grid while hometown boy Courtney started from 11th. The pair engaged in heated battles throughout the race, Courtney showing the grit early on which won him the 2010 championship, both in contention for potential top five finishes as the race went on. However, as ever in motorsport, the script is full of plot twists. Courtney was the first to suffer a failure while in eighth place, his front left suspension failing into turn three, limping back to the garage where he was parked up. Pye was in fifth and looking strong when he suffered a similar failure just four laps later, returning to the pits with a rim that looked like it was sliced open with a can opener. He returned to the track but was the last of the classified finishers, dropping to 10th in the championship standings.
- Todd Hazelwood may need to find a good dry cleaner after suffering a heart-stopping spin at turn one deep into the 300km race. It was a torrid weekend for the championship rookie and reigning Super2 Series champion with nothing going his way across the two days. Qualifying last, he would’ve been going into the race thinking things could only get better and while he was fighting for higher positions, the Matt Stone Racing driver didn’t make it into the top 20 all race. Then late in the race, a wing failure along the main straight meant he had no rear downforce when turning in to turn one, having a wild ride as the Falcon spun through the grass at over 200km/h. He was lucky to escape hitting anything but had to effectively retire from the race. In the car which should have won the championship last year and as the reigning development series champion, Hazelwood must be wondering what pieces of the puzzle he is missing this season to be struggling so often.
- Garth Tander may have gained places in Saturday night’s race but for the veteran, Saturday night seemed alright for fighting as he was boxed around the ears right from the get-go. As always, starting far back down the grid never helps and a poor qualifying session saw the Garry Rogers Motorsport driver end the first session in 22nd, way back down the order and nine spots down on rookie team-mate, James Golding. Early contact in the race damaged his car and dropped him slightly down the order, not like there were many positions to lose however. He kept on copping it throughout the race, spun by Simona De Silvestro at turn four and Tim Blanchard at turn eight later on. While he finished 20th, two spots above where he qualified, it was less than ideal for one of the most experienced drivers in the paddock.
Although Sydney has been the precursor to the Enduro Cup in recent years, this year will see South Australia’s The Bend Motorsport Park host its first Supercars round. Tailem Bend used to be Mitsubishi Australia’s old test track and renovations were completed this year. Having already hosted an exciting round of the Shannon’s Nationals and other local races, The Bend SuperSprint is one of the most anticipated events in the Virgin Supercars Championship calendar, as the brand new circuit levels the playing field. The Bend SuperSprint round will take place from the 24-26 of August.