Mixed fortunes, milestones and “another test day”, but who had a round to remember and who can’t forget the 2018 Darwin Triple Crown quickly enough?
This year’s Supercars event in the Top End produced top class racing mixing it up with a host of different pole-sitters and winners throughout the Darwin Triple Crown weekend. Hidden Valley often shines a spotlight on temperature issues and horsepower, the biggest test of a car’s strength throughout the year, as the championship leader almost found to his cost on Sunday. Darwin always turns it on though and the desire to drink some cold champagne was incentive enough for the top drivers to make a crack at the podium.
- Scott McLaughlin comes away from Darwin as the overall round winner, the young Kiwi doing almost all he could as he continues on his charge for a maiden title. Despite not qualifying on pole for either race, starting second on Saturday and Sunday, he capitalised on his opportunities very nearly taking away the full points available for the round. Strategy saw him win on Saturday, though not without being challenged by the hard-charging Shane van Gisbergen who was on younger tyres towards the end of the race. His win marked a century of wins for Dick Johnson. Sunday’s race was nearly a write off for McLaughlin, his Shell V-Power Racing Ford throwing up smoke signals before the half-way mark thanks to an overheating engine. Although it looked like he wouldn’t make the finish, he nursed the car to second, ahead of his major title rivals to move over a race clear of second-placed van Gisbergen in the standings.
- David Reynolds showed why he’s always one of the favourites in the Top End after taking a pole position and race win across the two days of racing. The Erebus Motorsport driver put in a sensational lap early in Saturday’s qualifying session to take his first pole since joining the team in 2016. Even though he wasn’t able to convert it to a win, eventually finishing third, the strong one-lap race will likely be a sign of things to come as we head into the second half of the season. Starting from fourth place on Sunday, Reynolds pulled off a blinding move at turn one to round up McLaughlin and Rick Kelly for the lead, staying there until the finish to take his second win of the year. Despite being over 300 points adrift of McLaughlin in the championship standings, Reynolds has the chance to really shake things up at the top when it counts.
- Shane van Gisbergen will be happy with his job at damage limitation in the Darwin Triple Crown, finishing third for the round and only dropping a few points to McLaughlin in the process. Off the back of a strong round at Winton where he whittled away at the points gap, the 2016 champion entered Saturday’s race starting from fifth on the grid. A long first stint gave him fresh tyres at the end, attacking McLaughlin but not having enough grip to get past. Sunday was a shock to the system, missing out on his first top ten shootout since Hamilton 2012 and starting from 11th. Another good strategy play throughout the race, including fresher tyres than the rest of the lead pack after a late race safety car, meant he was able to drive up to fourth place. Van Gisbergen’s race pace has been excellent over the year but his qualifying pace has been lacking, giving him and the Triple Eight squad an area to focus on moving forward.
- Anton de Pasquale proved to be the best of the rookies in qualifying, doing a stunning job on both days to get himself inside the top ten. Qualifying on Saturday saw him start from an astonishing third, making it a great place for he and team-mate/pole-sitter Reynolds. While this should really see him up in the winners’ section, unfortunately for de Pasquale, he was unable to capitalise on his starting position, dropping to 11th by the race end after struggling to fight in the opening laps. Sunday’s qualifying session again showed the rookie as a gun, provisionally starting third though his shootout lap ended with him in 10th. Another average race meant he dropped to 15th after fighting in the mid-pack battles, going backwards instead of forwards as he’d hoped. While the qualifying efforts were a standout, more consistency and pace in the race will cement de Pasquale as a future star and the standout rookie.
- Tickford Racing is becoming one of the running jokes of the season, having a stacked line-up which continually fails to fire round after round. For a team which had factory status less than five years ago, consistently finishing outside the top ten despite having four drivers is nothing short of unacceptable. Saturday qualifying saw all four drivers outqualified by Will Davison, in an older Tickford car and nursing an ankle injury, with Mark Winterbottom the fastest but starting down in 16th. Cam Waters ended up quickest of the team in the race, finishing 11th while the next car, Chaz Mostert, was back in 17th. Qualifying somehow got worse on Sunday, Mostert starting highest in 13th while Richie Stanaway started from the last row of the grid. Again, the team went backwards from its race one results, Mostert coming home first in 12th and Waters’ car seizing up under the safety car. This isn’t a one-off problem and the team will have to dig deep if it is to get back up to the front and prove it can be a title contender once again.
- Lee Holdsworth may have had a better weekend in Darwin than two years ago when he broke his ribs but the pain of finishing outside the top 20 will hurt only a little bit less. As passionate as Team 18 is, you’ve got to wonder when things will wrap up given the consistent lack of results. With a Triple Eight chassis but no data from the top squad, it’s no surprise that Holdsworth can’t fight at the top but the issues shouldn’t occur this often. 21st is the best he could muster in the Saturday sprint race, sliding back a position from the 20th place in qualifying. Qualifying 22nd on Sunday was going to set up a long day, had it not been for the ZB Commodore’s distinct splitter chatter ending up with the bumper undertray coming loose as the safety car came out. Unable to rejoin, Holdsworth wasn’t classified and now sits 21st in the points standings, far below equally experienced competitors.
Staying north of the tropics, the Townsville Street Circuit hosts its 10th round of Supercars action next up on the first full weekend of July. Last year, it provided a pivotal point in the championship where the charge to the end started to ramp up.