Who added a twist to the Supercars championship run-in and who drove us round the twist at Tailem Bend’s inaugural hosting of The Bend SuperSprint?
The inaugural Supercars race at The Bend Motorsport Park was billed as being an important weekend in terms of the championship storyline and looking at the standings going in to the Enduro Cup, it certainly lived up to the hype.
Arriving at a new track always throws a spanner in the works and can seperate the good teams from the great ones, testing their ability to set-up the car with no prior data as well as getting the driver to gel with an unknown quantity.
It proved to be a weekend with major championship implications yet surprisingly low levels of drama with the front runners keeping their noses clean while some further down the pack had theirs squashed.
- Shane van Gisbergen heads in to the Enduro Cup with a spring in his step after taking a win and the championship lead in what was a great weekend for the Kiwi at The Bend SuperSprint. Though he wasn’t immune in practice from going off the track, his qualifying pace on Saturday saw him line-up beside team-mate Jamie Whincup for race one, capitalising on better speed to take the lead five laps in. With a safety car appearance just two laps later, the move proved fortuitous as the pair doubled stack for their compulsory pit-stop. With van Gisbergen getting pit priority, he emerged in the lead, where he stayed for the rest of the race to close the gap at the top of the standings. He was fortunate not to drop back further than fourth on the opening of Sunday’s race after a less than average start from second, but consistency through the race meant he ended up in second. His consistent run of results means he now leads the championship going in to Sandown where he will be partnered with 2017 Le Mans and World Endurance Champion, Earl Bamber.
- Jamie Whincup came back into form with a vengeance in South Australia; unlucky not to take both wins after getting pole for both races over the two days. The defending champion seemed like the man to catch after qualifying on Saturday, taking pole for the first race at The Bend ahead of his team-mate and with a clear gap to the pack behind. While he led the opening stanza, an untimely safety car dropped him back in the order. A vintage Whincup fightback however saw him climb up to fourth by the end of the race. Sunday saw him turn around his slight misfortunes, taking pole by a bigger margin than Saturday, and leading the race from lights to flag. His 112th career win was also the 181st for Triple Eight, moving them to first on the all-time winners list ahead of Walkinshaw.
- Will Davison was one of the most consistent drivers in both races, finishing in the same spot on both Saturday and Sunday, while finishing ahead of other drivers with more support. The 23Red Racing driver punched well above his weight early on in race one, fighting hard with Mark Winterbottom and Scott McLaughlin in the other Ford Falcons. He ended up finishing a valiant seventh, a result which was repeated on Sunday after keeping his nose clean throughout the 200km race. Davison’s form has shown that while some consider him past his prime, he’s still a top racer, especially in older hardware as he continues to out-pace the other Tickford cars prepared by the team itself.
- Scott McLaughlin has pulled off some stellar drives this year but The Bend SuperSprint wasn’t kind to him with the young Kiwi losing the championship lead after failing to make the podium in either race. Throughout the whole weekend, he never looked comfortable, and the #17 Falcon wasn’t close to the pace of the Triple Eight cars up front. Qualifying fifth on Saturday, his position chopped and changed during the opening 120km race, but he ended the day in the same position while title rival van Gisbergen won. Sunday then saw him slip further down the order in qualifying, only just nabbing 10th on the grid but again, he was unable to improve throughout the race. McLaughin and his DJR Team Penske squad can only hope to turn their form around heading to Sandown and hope this isn’t a repeat of the 2017 title run-in.
- Todd Hazelwood and his perpetual blues haven’t changed which will be making the Super2 champion see red at this point in his debut main game season. After struggling in the ex-DJR Team Penske Ford Falcon, Hazelwood and the Matt Stone Racing team decided to revert back to his 2017 Super2 championship winning Holden Commodore from this round onwards. The move heralded no immediate impact with the rookie finishing 26th and 25th in Saturday and Sunday’s races respectively, the worst of the rookies who finished, and far down on any other Triple Eight built car. While the choice to go back to a Triple Eight Holden has merit going forwards into 2019, a lack of immediate results will always make their critics ask tough questions.
- Kurt Kostecki was one of two wildcards for the weekend, wanting to continue racking up hours in the seat in main game races after his unexpected debut last year. However, the Super2 driver had a weekend to forget at Tailem Bend, racking up only a handful of kilometres and an expensive repair bill after the two races. A small victory on Saturday would have been not qualifying last, pipping Hazelwood (also in a VF Commdore) to not starting in the last grid spot. Unfortunately, he was last in the race out of the drivers who didn’t suffer a mechanical fault, only finishing ahead of Garth Tander who spent a few laps in the garage. An incident early on in the piece in Sunday’s race meant an early end to the 200km race for the young gun. With results as disheartening as those, it begs the question as to what level Super2 drivers should be at before being accepted as a wildcard in the main game.
The season of endurance is just around the corner with the Sandown 500 marking the start of the Enduro Cup. Last year’s winners of Sandown, Cam Waters and Richie Stanaway, will be wanting to use that performance as a psychological boost to turn their seasons around.