There’s just four races left in the 2017 Supercars championship after the Gold Coast 600, and look who’s just hit the lead of the standings …
A couple of surfboards will be heading back to Red Bull Holden Racing Team headquarters after the Gold Coast 600 – even if the ones with the No.1 on them proved just elusive. But there was a silver lining to the traditionally bruising street-fight in Surfers Paradise – Jamie Whincup made the short trip to his Gold Coast home on Sunday night with the Supercars championship lead in his pocket.
The six-time champion got the weekend off to a strong start with a new lap record late on Friday afternoon, the first ‘nine’ for a Supercar at the Gold Coast set under clear blue skies.
Saturday’s skies were anything but with showers setting in throughout the day, the rain mixing with the white lines and patched tarmac to make for what Whincup colourfully described as a “gnarly” surface. A slap against the tyres didn’t stop him from nabbing a front-row start for he and co-driver Paul Dumbrell, while Shane van Gisbergen/Matt Campbell lined up seventh, and Craig Lowndes/Steven Richards 11th.
‘PD’ was in the thick of the fight for the win until contact at the first chicane with eventual victors Chaz Mostert and Steve Owen, a penalty leaving car 88 to stand still for 15 seconds penalty at the end of its next pit stop. The final stint saw the track begin to dry, and a pre-race setup decision left Whincup to slip to sixth at the flag with ‘Lowndesy’ right on his tail.
“I think (race engineer David) Cauchi predicted the weather to be much wetter than it was and the track ended up drying, which just didn’t suit our car,” Whincup said.
“Thankfully we finished somewhere there or thereabouts, and we’ve got a straight car.”
A strong final stint from SVG saw him swoop past Whincup, setting off after a podium finish, but falling just over a second shy in fourth place.
Sunday would start out much better for car 97 – and everyone else trackside.
Sunny skies greeted the Gold Coast ahead of Race 22, and SVG made the most of it, qualifying fastest for the Top 10 Shootout – that makes 32 in a row now! – before backing it up with the quickest one-lap blast to take his first pole position since Adelaide. Whincup put car 88 alongside for an all-Red Bull front row, while Lowndes made it clean sweep of the top three for Triple Eight.
“It was a big change to go from all wets yesterday to dry today, but the guys did a great job and the team managed 1-2-3 in qualifying which was very special,” van Gisbergen said.
Dumbrell, Campbell and Richards continued to fly in formation from race start through to the end of their stints, handing over to the main drivers, with the three Triple Eight cars running line astern at the head of the field.
After that, the podium lock-out went a bit pear-shaped.
Right behind Lowndes in third was Scott McLaughlin in fourth, but he pitted first out of the leading quartet on lap 59. Cars 97 and 888 followed suit a couple of laps later, while car 88 headed to the pits for a full tank of fuel on lap 64.
When the dust settled from the final round of stops, DJR Team Penske’s aggressive fuel strategy vaulted McLaughlin and co-driver Alexandre Premat into a lead that, despite Whincup et al’s best efforts, they would maintain to the chequers, bringing home a team 2-3-4, with the Red Bull pairings making the trip to the podium.
“We’re feeling mixed emotions as we’re happy to be on podium, but we fought hard and just got done by pace. They (DJR Team Penske) were a bit more aggressive on strategy,” Whincup said.
“It’s disappointing not to get the win, but it’s obviously good for points for us and it’s a good team result.”
Just 27 points separates the three leading championship contenders, J-Dub carrying a 17-point advantage over Fabian Coulthard, with McLaughlin a further 10 adrift. ‘Gizzy’ isn’t out of it either, 189 markers behind Whincup in fifth place, with a total of 600 still to play for across the four races left before the silverware is handed out in Newcastle.
It’s the first time Whincup has led the series’ pointscore all season, which means the championship leader’s orange digits will adorn the windows of car 88 when it rolls out of the garage at Pukekohe for the Auckland SuperSprint on November 3-5.
By Jordan Shepherd on redbull.com