The heat may have been on the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship going into round four of the 2017 season, but a hot weekend in Perth was just what the Series needed after two rounds of soul searching.
With the abrasive surface of Barbagallo Raceway playing host to the Perth SuperSprint, many were predicting tyres would again be a major issue. Fast wearing rubber plus a high degradation circuit did amount to heated action as a number of story lines played out over the weekend, but this time it was the action out on track that was the sole focus of attention. And while it was an unbeatable weekend in the sunshine for some, for others the season hit a new low.
- Scott McLaughlin produced a weekend of faultless driving to put his championship charge back on track, taking a pole position and two wins out West. The DJR Team Penske driver put the faults of previous races behind him to returning to winning ways, seemingly feeling at home in the Falcon and with engineer Ludo Lacroix. Overseen by Dick Johnson and Roger Penske, McLaughlin’s start on Saturday was enough to put him in front for the race and give the famous #17 car its first win since 2001. Starting from pole on Sunday gave him the track position to repeat the feat, with the young Kiwi climbing to fourth in the points.
- Fabian Coulthard extended his championship lead after two solid races, showing pace but more importantly staying on track. Pole on Saturday, as a part of a DJR Team Penske front-row lockout, helped him run close with McLaughlin in race one, the pair dominating and taking home a decent haul of points. Relatively poor qualifying for race two saw him on another strategy, coming home first out of those on a three-stop strategy. While his championship lead is slim, he is driving consistently which is increasingly important when so many points are on offer.
- Jamie Whincup was the quiet achiever of the weekend, featuring on the podium in both races and keeping his nose clean. It is odd to see the six-time champion without a win to his name so far this year, but he is still third overall in the points, showing how consistent he has been to date. With mistakes in previous seasons, perhaps this is a new approach to maximise the points by not taking risks. A quiet third on Saturday was followed by a similar result on Sunday, though with a bit more spirit in the opening lap. While he may not yet have scored a race win, it’s clear this new approach may work if the faster cars ahead of him make any mistakes.
- Walkinshaw Racing had one of “those weekends” where you give your driver a car so horrible, they don’t want to talk after the race. The team’s fall from grace after losing Holden money has been delayed but painful with both James Courtney and Scott Pye struggling all weekend long. 2010 champion Courtney was the worst affected, qualifying 24th and 20th. Things didn’t get much better in the races, 17th on Saturday was to be a highlight when, in race two, the team failed to make the minimum fuel drop in the scheduled stops, bringing Courtney in during the final laps, and ending up 22nd. It’s not only a case of the team failing to fire, they didn’t even load the gun. The team will have some sore scalps from all the head scratching which will be occurring between now and Winton.
- We’ve had nothing but praise for Simona de Silvestro recently, but the Supercars rookie was the unfortunate scapegoat in what was nearly a terrifying accident during qualifying for Saturday’s race. As she and a few others were on their warm-up laps, they were unaware of Shane van Gisbergen coming flying over the crest on approach to Turn 7. The defending champion’s reflexes saw him avoid a crash but given the Swiss driver was the first car in line, she received a grid penalty for Sunday’s race for unsafe driving. Despite both of these headaches, she still finished ahead of her fellow rookies, local Alex Rullo and last-minute call up Matthew Brabham.
- Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport must be getting sick of finishing outside the top 20 if not for the hopefully impressive bank balance their drivers bring. For Alex Rullo, it was his first round in front of his home West Australian crowd. While he brought new sponsors on-board for the weekend, the money didn’t equal speed with a 24th and 25th place. Matthew Brabham may be an open-wheel champion in the USA and a part of a racing dynasty but his debut weekend was perhaps nothing to be unexpected after finishing second-last and last in the two races. With nothing but poor results, you have to wonder how long this privateer team will be around in the sport.
Next up, the field moves to Bushranger Country, visiting Winton for the pre-Winter ass-freezing Winton SuperSpint. Despite the low temperatures, if the action is anywhere near as good as we have seen over the past few races, the competition is sure to heat up all over again.