Barbagallo maybe a short track by nature but it’s never short on action. We reflect on who shone and who wilted at the Perth SuperSprint…
The Perth round has always been great for battles and wild finishes and it’s hard to argue that this year’s iteration was any different. A mixed bag of results however, at least from expectations, has made the 2018 Perth SuperSprint one of those weekends which, when looking back on this year’s championship will be important and “game changing”.
Who could have predicted when the Supercars paddock headed West that another clean sweep would be on the cards while one of the sport’s top teams let a near certain win slip away?
- Scott McLaughlin has put his championship tilt in to full swing winning both races in Perth, though he didn’t have it all his own way. The young Kiwi did his usual thing of qualifying on pole then running away with the race on Saturday, staying clear of the drama to notch up another victory for the year. Sunday could’ve been a disaster; qualifying 19th wasn’t in the script. However, with Ludo Lacroix in his box, the pair and the DJR Team Penske squad mounted an amazing comeback to take the win from way back on the grid in similar fashion to McLaughlin’s (and co-driver Alex Premat’s) victory at the Gold Coast last year. The perfect 300 weekend means the #17 car has taken 600 points from the last four races, moving McLaughlin 158 points clear of Shane van Gisbergen in the standings.
- Craig Lowndes is relishing in a twilight resurgence, yet again out-performing his younger team-mates and putting in a show for the crowd along the way. Showing his confidence on the updated 2016-spec Dunlop rubber, Lowndes out-qualified his Red Bull stable-mates for Saturday’s race, the only one of the Triple Eight trio to make the top ten. A strong drive ended up in a fifth place finish aiding his championship cause no end. Qualifying for Sunday however could’ve only gone one place worse, as he finished Q1 in 25th place. From there however, vintage Lowndes was on display. Carving up the pack and making use of a good strategy from his engineer, Lowndes ended up in a remarkable third spot on the podium in the day’s other incredible comeback.
- Shane van Gisbergen was the surprise second placed driver in terms of round points for the Perth SuperSprint, moving himself up into second place in the title race. The 2016 series champion made two storming drives from compromised positions to be the best of the rest over the round. Qualifying 12th for race one certainly wasn’t a part of the plan though an “even tyre” strategy of running long on the first set to charge home at the end netted him third place. Sunday started well with pole but went downhill when the lights went out; dropping to third by turn one and down into the last third of the field due to double-stacking behind Jamie Whincup after an early safety car. A four-stop race with strong pace meant he fought back to fifth; not ideal, but better than projected after the opening laps.
- Anton de Pasquale had all of the potential and promise to do well in Perth but threw it all away across two lacklustre races. A drop of nine spots in Saturday’s race after qualifying ninth was a big hit to the young rookie’s confidence off the back of strong results at Phillip Island. A small consolation was that he was only a spot behind team-mate David Reynolds who was struggling for pace throughout the open race. Qualifying for Sunday’s race saw de Pasquale start 20th, and amongst the mid-pack battle. Or at least, he would have been if he didn’t run off the road three times at Colb Corner and take a trip through the sand. While he has previously shown moments of brilliance, consistency and clean racing will be crucial for him to emerge as one of the year’s top rookies.
- Fabian Coulthard will be getting a sore neck by now after constantly looking at the other side of the DJR Team Penske garage, pondering what is going on with his year. Yet to qualify on pole this season, Coulthard managed third on the grid for the 120km race on Saturday which turned into an average eighth place by race’s end; quite a few spots down from his team-mate. While he was able to out-qualify McLaughlin for Sunday’s 200km feature race, 17th on the grid was nothing to write home about. Being caught up in an opening lap incident and having to double-stack under the safety car, Coulthard was left to lament a 16th place finish at the conclusion of the 83 laps. It’s hard to say what his issue is this year given he was one of the best drivers in 2017. With team-mate McLaughlin quicker in the same package, he’ll need to turn around his form soon to get up the front this year.
- Jamie Whincup may not have been the worst performing driver of the round but a spate of less than desirable results put him further out of touch with the championship lead. Similar to van Gisbergen, he suffered issues in qualifying on Saturday though started two places down on his team-mate in 14th for the opening race. While he made progress and gained spots by the finish, a five-second penalty thanks to spinning Chaz Mostert on entry to the pits meant he was behind most of his title rivals finishing 11th. Sunday promised better fortunes; a front row start always helps matters. Leading the opening laps and having track position when the safety car came out meant nothing as he was continually jumped in the pits throughout the race, before ending up in sixth. His weekend could’ve been worse but it also could have gone a lot better as the reigning and seven-time champion is now 268 points behind McLaughlin.
McLaughlin will be looking to keep finding gold when he hits the track with the rest of the paddock at Winton. A tight track likened to “running a marathon around your clothesline”, it will be another test of the new ZB Commodore at the place of Nissan’s first Supercars race win.