Shane van Gisbergen, winner of the 2016 ITM Auckland SuperSprint and the Jason Richards Memorial trophy. Photo: Rhys Vandersyde[/caption]
The penultimate round of this year’s Supercars season took the series across the ditch to Pukekohe Park in New Zealand for the only international race of the year, the ITM Auckland SuperSprint. Heading in to the round the focus was on the Red Bull Racing Australia drivers as the only two that could win the championship but for the field’s five Kiwi drivers it was all about the coveted Jason Richards memorial trophy. Given to the driver with the best results over the four races the competition was tight, though there was one clear winner on Sunday afternoon.
- Shane van Gisbergen Already within touching distance of the 2016 Supercars title, van Gisbergen extended his championship lead to 191 points after taking three podiums including a win on the Auckalnd circuit, winning the Jason Richards trophy in the process. The popular Kiwi helped his cause by getting pole for three out of the four races and racing hard to stay at the front. Despite contact with his team-mate in the third race, the Giz’s three podiums were enough to pip the 2015 champion for the round win, the first Kiwi to take the honour and adding to the Pirtek Enduro Cup he and co-driver Alex Prémat won on the Gold Coast. With his sizeable points gap over Whincup in the championship, van Gisbergen only has to finish fifth in the first race in Sydney to clinch his first title
- Mark Winterbottom was able to capitalise on others mistakes to take his second race win of the year and second overall in the round. The 2015 series champion made a blistering start in the third race to muscle his way past Scott Pye for first place. The drama behind him meant he could sail to a relatively easy win, his first since Perth earlier in the season. While he is way out of contention for this year’s title, wins like in race three show that he still has pace to burn on occasion.
- Jamie Whincup may not have had the best round but two wins and a second place helps his career statistics while just keeping him in touch with van Gisbergen in the race for the title. The six-time champion won the opening and closing races of the round and scored his podium in the second race. With pace over his team-mate, Whincup may well have won the third race, but for a failed pass on the #97 car which resulted in contact between him and van Gisbergen, a subsequent pit lane penalty, and going a lap down by the end of the race. Now sitting on 103 race wins, he is only two wins behind equalling Craig Lowndes, a feat that could still be achieved by the end of the season.
- Jason Bright was lucky to get back on track for Sunday’s racing after major contact in race one put him out of contention for the rest of the day. The winner of the Jason Richards memorial trophy in 2013, Bright was unlikely to repeat the feat again this time around, though it was unfortunate that the spiritual car of Richards was unable to put in a good showing. Bright only has two races left with BJR, and with his future in the sport still to be resolved he’ll want to impress in the final round of the season.
- Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport once again found themselves closer than not to the back of the pack, their best result coming from Percat’s 14th place in the weekend opener. Things went down from there with no more results better than 18th for Percat and 22nd for Heimgartner over the round. Struggling for speed, a driver next year and sponsors, the small team will have a hard time keeping its head above water as this season comes to a close and we move in to a new year.
- TeamVortex may have scored two top ten results over the four races but they were overshadowed by two mid-pack finishes. Following the announcement that Lowndes’ engineer Ludo Lacroix would be going to DJR Team Penske next year, Roland Dane made the decision to bench him for the rest of the year, forcing Lowndes to work with new engineer for the remaining two rounds. Now only 21 points separate Lowndes and Scott McLaughlin for third in the championship, with the Triple Eight driver in the better position, but only just.
The next time we see the Supercars on track will also be the last for the season, and the last at the venue. Sydney Olympic Park will make its final appearance in the championship from the 2nd to 4th of December. Could the Homebush street circuit provide us with a new champion? The Red Bull Racing duo may well have shared the spoils at Pukekohe Park, but with 300 points on offer Whincup has vowed to take the fight to the wire and we could well be in for another cracking end to the season.