All three marques on both Phillip Island 500 podiums is a definite win, but who made it count and who was left counting the cost…
While the two 250km races produced some interesting if not entertaining races, the long, hard slog across 500km of racing at one of the most demanding tracks in Australia silenced any doubters of Supercars’ parity, showing the skills of the drivers and how well, or not, they gel with their cars.
- Scott McLaughlin was the undeniable winner of the Phillip Island 500 round, not only taking both pole positions, but also both race wins. The runner-up in last year’s championship set himself up for an early title charge taking the maximum 300 points available, capitalising on the misfortunes of his rivals to move himself into the overall championship points lead. Two passes at turn two across the two races, first on rival Jamie Whincup and then on David Reynolds, showed not only the speed of the #17 Falcon, but also McLaughlin’s killer instinct to win. While he didn’t run away with victory in the races, it was enough to win twice and get the bright orange numbers back on the DJR Team Penske Ford.
- Rick Kelly made his 500th and 501st races ones to remember, taking two much-needed podiums for the Nissan squad at a time when its future is uncertain. The 2006 series champion started Saturday’s race from fifth and while it was a lonely drive to third (later upgraded to second after a penalty for Jamie Whincup), the podium finish was his first since 2015. Kelly again found himself on the dais after a very strong drive in Sunday’s race, making it his first double podium since 2009. After Ford announced they’d be updating their cars next year to the Mustang, Kelly’s results are a timely message to Nissan about what his team can achieve if the Japanese marque continues their support of the sport.
- David Reynolds has again show himself to be a genuine title contender in this year’s championship, finishing third in the round and beating his fiercest competitors. The Erebus driver struggled in practice but made major improvements when it counted, ending up sixth on corrected order in the first race. He then led briefly in Sunday’s race, fending off McLaughlin before making a small mistake at turn two and opening the door. A second place finish was the first podium for Reynolds at Phillip Island, and the swag of points that came with it puts him only 60 points away from McLaughlin in the points standings and showing speed and consistency this season.
- Jamie Whincup has been left to rue a costly mistake in Saturday’s 250km race, dropping to 14th after finishing second on the road. Leading most of the race in a closely-fought battle with Scott McLaughlin, the defending champion uncharacteristically disengaged his pit speed limiter too early after leaving the pits, gaining a slight advantage. He was eventually passed by his 2017 title adversary but was handed a penalty post-race, copping it on the chin while losing multiple spots in the championship standings. Sunday was an improvement in finishing position but still hard, scraping home in ninth after having little car speed. Despite entering the round as the championship leader, Whincup now sits fifth and 142 points away from McLaughlin.
- Lee Holdsworth had another unlucky weekend, facing dramas all round long thanks to issues outside of his team’s control. He and the Team 18 squad had numerous issues with the front splitter suffering high-speed vibrations, going through a handful of them across the weekend to try and resolve the problem. While most teams running the ZB had the same problem in the pre-season test, Holdsworth and the two Brad Jones Racing drivers suffered it at Phillip Island, the #18 driver being affected the most. 22nd was the best he could do on Saturday while an extended amount of time fixing the splitter in the garage on Sunday dropped him down to 25th, the last of the finishers.
- Jack Le Brocq had a fall from grace after putting in a breakout round in Tasmania, ending up back with his rookie mates at Phillip Island. Hot off the back of finishing fifth at Symmons Plains, the Tekno driver struggled in race one, ending up in battles with the other rookies and only managing 20th while the other Triple Eight built cars all finished in the top ten. Sunday was a little bit better, coming home 18th but still behind Erebus rookie Anton De Pasquale who had to double stack behind his team-mate. Le Brocq will want to turn around his luck moving forward if he wants to be the standout rookie this season.
Next up the series goes west, taking on Barbagallo Raceway in Perth. Last year it was the scene of another Scott McLaughlin clean sweep, his first wins for DJR Team Penske. Now in the championship lead, he’ll be looking to do it again on the way to winning his maiden title.