It’s status quo at the top of the Supercars championship ladder after the Ipswich SuperSprint but who advanced their cause and who lost their footing?
A quick turn around from Townsville meant the championship action for the Supercars field had hardly any time to rest heading into the Ipswich SuperSprint at Queensland Raceway.
With only two weeks between rounds, no one needed reminding about how tight the title race is becoming and though the two races were quite different across the weekend, the order at the very top of the standings remains unchanged.
While the front-runners battled hard over the 320km of racing, the action further back caused some unnecessary casualties which has only hurt those who have been struggling even more.
- Scott McLaughlin came very close to completing his third clean-sweep of the year, setting himself up well with two pole positions, taking his tally for the year up to ten. Blitzing the field on Saturday, it was a lights to flag victory for the championship leader after putting in a scintillating pole time and converting that to his seventh victory of the season after a strong drive. Sunday saw him again take pole, though by a narrower margin. Losing out off the start line to Shane van Gisbergen, he kept pace with the #97 ZB Commodore, with the pair trading places after the first round of pit-stops. But it was van Gisbergen who prevailed after the second stop. Despite mounting a challenge near the end, second was the best McLaughlin could achieve as he left Queensland still leading the championship.
- Shane van Gisbergen may not have tightened the gap to McLaughlin in the championship but he didn’t lose any points either after the pair traded wins and second placings across the two races. Initially it seemed like a weekend of damage limitation for the 2016 series champion, qualifying eighth for the Saturday race. However, a rocket start saw him move up to third in the opening stanza, soon getting up to second where he stayed until the end. Starting on the front row for Sunday’s race, he was able to make better use of his blinding start, inheriting the lead and not looking back, winning ahead of McLaughlin. The points difference between the pair may not have closed but they’re running away from everyone else, setting up a two-horse race for the rest of the season. With the starts so crucial and the Red Bull Holden Racing team having seemingly got their qualifying demons under control, could van Gisbergen now start reeling in his Kiwi rival?
- Chaz Mostert found some overdue form in the Ipswich SuperSprint, performing better than his team-mates to take his first podium in 2018. A winner in 2013 and 2017 at Queensland Raceway, he wanted to turn around his run of bad luck heading in to the round. Qualifying second on Saturday helped put the plan into action though he was penalised three grid spots for impeding van Gisbergen on a hot lap. In the race he had to settle for sixth after a busy few opening laps and an early stop. Sunday was a better affair, keeping his third position on the grid and getting in amongst van Gisbergen and McLaughlin. His third place finish ended a podium drought stretching back to October last year. On older tyres, he had a tough job of keeping Jamie Whincup behind him in the closing laps, winning the drag race to the line for third place. Encouraged by the strong result, he’ll be looking to convert his position to a win at the Sydney SuperNight race around a track where he has succeeded in the past.
Honourable mentions: Jamie Whincup for two fourth place finishes, Craig Lowndes for a podium on Saturday, Tim Slade for qualifying 19th on Sunday and finishing 6th.
- Lee Holdsworth is evidently still looking for the black cat which haunts him after having another lacklustre round, failing to make a major impact on the race. While his Preston Hire Racing team has all the ingredients for success (championship winning engineer Jeff Grech, championship winning team owner Charlie Schwerkolt, Triple Eight chassis and KRE engine) they can’t convert ambition into results. Qualifying 25th on Saturday, Holdsworth only gained one position due to Todd Hazelwood needing repairs. Sunday was slightly better with the #18 qualifying in 21st though there was no improvement from the position by the end of the race. With questions over the team’s future looming, they’ll want to put in stronger results for the remainder of the season to remain relevant.
- Walkinshaw Andretti United has slowly been finding form this season, taking sporadic top fives and podiums while struggling in other rounds. Unfortunately, the Ipswich SuperSprint was one of the troughs amongst the peaks with only one top ten achieved. James Courtney finished eighth in Saturday’s sprint race though team-mate Scott Pye struggled, ending up in 16th. Sunday got off to a messy start after the pair allegedly (from Courtney’s point of view) engaged in friendly fire at turn four, resulting in Courtney hitting Mark Winterbottom and retiring. Pye has argued there’s no witness marks on his car but was unable to improve over the race, eventually coming home 19th. Despite an early season win for Pye in Melbourne, the WAU team is facing the same teething dramas as DJR Team Penske did with two cars in 2016, something they’ll want to eradicate soon.
- Mark Winterbottom and Cam Waters had to watch their team-mate Mostert bring home a decent chunk of the team’s points as the pair failed to make a dent in the two races. Winterbottom’s 20th place finish in the Saturday race was more indicative of the recent pace Tickford has shown, though being in the wrong place at the wrong time on Sunday meant he was caught up in someone else’s accident, coming home last of the runners. Waters was nowhere to be seen most of the round, struggling to 22nd in race one (ten spots behind rookie team-mate Richie Stanaway) and only just pipping his Kiwi stable mate to 17th in the last race. Mostert showed that the car has speed, at least at a track where he has always done well; it’s now down to the rest of the team to keep improving to make Tickford great again.
Next on the calendar is a racing revolution with the first Supercars night race since 1997 being held at Sydney Motorsport Park. The Eastern Creek venue last hosted a race under lights way back in 1996 where a young Craig Lowndes made his debut and won the round. With only 300km of racing and 300 points up for grabs, it could turn out to be one of the most important rounds of the year.