The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship continued its run of escaping winter with a visit to the beautiful Reid Park circuit for the Watpac Townsville 400 last weekend. A popular race track and environment, the series’ ninth visit to Queensland’s north saw two 200km races contested and serious ramifications to the plot line of the season. While some enjoyed success let loose on Townsville streets, others were left to pick up the pieces of a weekend to forget.
- Scott McLaughlin has moved himself into the Championship lead after a stellar weekend at the Reid Park circuit. The young Kiwi took pole for both Townsville 400 races, bringing his tally up to nine for the season, closing in on Jamie Whincup’s record of 13 in a year. On top of his pole record, he has also started on the front row for 12 consecutive races, showing the one lap pace of his car. He controlled the race on Saturday, going on to win and while he was competitive on Sunday, he had to settle for second. Now leading the points table, he’ll be going to the team’s home track of Queensland Raceway with that winning confidence.
- Jamie Whincup may have had to wait until the 14th race of the season, and 15 races total since his last win, but the six-time champion stood on the top step of the victory dais for the first time this year. After being beaten to the line by McLaughlin the day before, Whincup and his team were keen to get a win on the board for the #88 this year. Making a strong strategy call to get track position on Sunday, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver undercut race leader McLaughlin with a clever pit stop on lap 16, and resisted strong pressure to take the chequered flag. Sunday’s 2017 breakthrough in Townsville means Whincup is now tied with team-mate Craig Lowndes for all-time Supercars wins on 105, an impressive feat given his first came in 2006 while Lowndes’ was in 1996. While he may have had to wait until the mid-point of the season to get his first win, his consistency means he is still second in the points coming in to a point in the year where he has always been a force to be reckoned with.
- Prodrive Racing may have not scored a win up north but after the team’s recent slump in form, a podium and having its cars in good point scoring positions may have felt as good as one. Mark Winterbottom chalked up the team’s only podium of the round in race one and finished a solid fourth in race two; Chaz Mostert managed to drive home to fourth and fifth in the two races, while Cam Waters performed well in race one but struggled in race two, finishing fifth and 14th respectively. Even Jason Bright had a half-decent weekend with qualifying, starting in tenth for Sunday’s race after the top ten shootout. With the main focus on the DJRTP/Triple Eight battle up front, Prodrive has almost nothing to lose going in the back end of the season, and will be looking for race wins rather than a consistent points haul to wrap up the year.
- Fabian Coulthard had a weekend to forget after multiple incidents saw him lose the championship points lead, now over a race behind the leader. A ninth place start for race one buried him in the mid-pack and saw him caught up in a lap one incident, put into a spin by Tim Slade who himself had been hit by Garth Tander and James Moffat. The spin put Coulthard in dead last, but he recovered well to finish 11th after Moffat was hit with a penalty for the earlier contact. Sunday didn’t turn out any better for the DJRTP driver. Having qualified 12th, he was involved in an early incident spinning Slade at the final turn. A 15 second time penalty ensued at his first stop and saw him losing a lap as a result, before finishing 21st. To add insult to injury, his two championship rivals finished one-two in both races, pushing him further away from the championship lead as he left Townsville sitting third.
- Walkinshaw Racing may have shown the door to team boss Adrian Burgess after Perth (and driver Garth Tander at the end of last season) but it seems like the team’s bad form or just bad luck is here to stay. James Courtney was caught up in the Coulthard incident on Saturday, ending the race in 25th, the last of those still running. While he scored a ninth place finish on Sunday, this was a far cry from the two podiums he had in the Townsville 400 last year. Scott Pye had an average weekend, finishing 13th and 18th in race one and two respectively, far from what he would have wanted, especially given his former car is winning races and sitting on top of the points table. Walkinshaw Racing need a turn in fortune very soon if they want to get back to fighting at the front.
- Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport did its usual thing of puttering along at the back all weekend, collecting points and money from their sponsors. Credit where it’s due, both cars finished in both races, meaning less of the incoming money has to be spent on repairs. However, Alex Rullo could only manage 21st and 24th, not even cracking the top 20. 2016 Erebus outcast and new ring-in for LDM, Aaren Russell, followed his team-mate in both races and brought the car home, which is about all they can hope for these days. If the team wants to stay in the main game and truly improve Rullo’s racecraft, they need a second driver who can push him and teach him how to drive at the top level instead of the current revolving door hiring policy which has already seen four drivers race the #3 car this year.
Next up, the Championship remains in the Sunshine State, this time heading back south to Ipswich for a SuperSprint round at Queensland Raceway. The home track to the Queensland based teams, the ‘paperclip’ may be a simple track (on paper!) but has seen plenty of action over the years.