Queensland hosted its second Virgin Australia Supercars Championship round in a row last weekend with the series heading to the Queensland Raceway circuit for the Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint. Affectionately known as “the Paperclip”, Queensland Raceway is a short track which usually produces good racing, and this weekend was no exception. The cream of the crop rose to the top, while the wildcard drivers added spice to the already hot action.
- Scott McLaughlin extended his slim championship lead coming close to a clean sweep of the weekend’s races. The #17 DJR Team Penske pilot had a great round – pole for both races to increase his tally to 11 out of 17 races this season, and taking a fifth pole in a row, a feat last achieved by his boss Dick Johnson in 1988. After an average start on Saturday, he recovered the lead and took a comfortable win. Sunday saw him baulk the start and fight back to second position. Getting nearly maximum points while beating his rivals further has certainly helped the flying kiwi in his charge for a maiden title.
- Chaz Mostert proved he’s still the “best of the rest” by taking his second win of the season on Sunday, beating his DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight rivals. The Prodrive young gun came second on Saturday and made the holeshot at the start of Sunday’s race to put himself in the best position to win. Good strategy calls by his team and pace at the end saw him take victory in the 200km feature race of the Ipswich Super Sprint, albeit under some pressure from McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen. While Mostert is still a decent way off the top spot, Prodrive appear to have overcome its earlier inconsistencies and consistent results could put him back in to title contention.
- Shane Van Gisbergen showed he can be consistent throughout a weekend when the opportunity arises, finishing third in both of the weekend’s races. Despite not qualifying on the front row on Saturday or Sunday, the defending champion displayed good race pace and was able to fight for higher positions. Leaving it late to pit in Saturday’s race, van Gisbergen charged his way from eight to third with an masterful dive inside of Tim Slade to grab the final podium spot. Sunday saw him make positions at the end of the race and challenge McLaughlin for second though he was unable to make a pass. The best of the Triple Eight cars, van Gisbergen capitalised on his team-mates misfortunes and will be wanting to keep up the front for a while yet.
- Jamie Whincup may have put in a good recovery drive on Sunday to regain some levels of points, but the dramas on Saturday were enough to make the whole round one to forget. Starting with a lack of pace and qualifying ninth, he was hit with a five-place grid penalty thanks to being released in to the path of James Moffat during qualifying. Things didn’t improve in the race when a bungle in the pitstop dropped him way down the order. He eventually came home in 20th. Sunday saw him qualify well in third, but struggling for speed at the end of the day, he lost out to Mostert after the second pitstop and was passed by McLaughlin and van Gisbergen both on fresher rubber to finish fourth. Now 129 points behind the championship lead, although remaining in second place overall, Whincup will need to fight back hard for the rest of the year if he is to take a seventh championship.
- The Supercars qualifying format has been put under intense scrutiny this year and calls to change it have resurfaced after issues over the Ipswich SuperSprint weekend. Saturday’s qualifying saw McLaughlin passing hordes of cars at a fast rate of knots, though Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport stand-in Alex Davison nearly caused a major accident when he weaved in front of the fast approaching Ford. Despite no contact being made, or penalty given, the issue meant the run had to be aborted by McLaughlin. More traffic issues arose on Sunday, with three drivers penalised for impeding fellow competitors during the 20 minute session. Around a track with a 70 second lap time, not much space can be given to the 30 drivers on the circuit which is something the category will need to address in the future.
- Dunlop had another poor weekend for their brand image after a number of tyre failure in the round’s final 200km race. Despite Saturday being a quiet day with no real dramas, Sunday saw five major punctures take out four drivers in the race. Will Davison had two failures, both on approach to turn three, possibly down to running aggressive camber settings. James Courtney and Nick Percat had failures on the same lap at different points, while Garth Tander was the final car to suffer under the safety car period. While it may not be Dunlop’s fault as to why the teams run the cars on such a fine edge, the failures this weekend and in Phillip Island has left a bad taste in the mouths of fans.
In three weeks time, the series will be heading further south to race in Sydney’s west at Sydney Motorsport Park, a purpose built track with European characteristics. The final race before the endurance series, Sydney is a good race to gauge who will be at the top by the time everyone turns up at Sandown.