Shane van Gisbergen snared the silverware, but he and Jamie Whincup took valuable lessons back to base as the Supercars season saw two new winners at Winton.
Written by Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Two races, two pieces of silverware and one valuable lesson learned – that was the takeaway from Winton for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team last weekend at the sixth round of the Supercars season, one where Shane van Gisbergen edged his way closer to the top of the championship chase.
SVG came into Winton 158 points behind Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin at the head of the standings, and headed home to sunny warm Queensland from grey chilly Benalla with a deficit of 131 points, third place on Saturday preceding second on Sunday as he finished ahead of his compatriot in both races.
Both races had a familiar pattern too; from less-than-flattering qualifying returns (14th on Saturday, seventh on Sunday), SVG ran as long as he dared on his tyres to ensure he’d have pace in reserve for the final stint of the races on fresher rubber, and it was a tactic that looked for a second like it might achieve the ultimate payoff in Sunday’s 67-lap journey.
Pitting for four new tyres 17 laps from home, SVG quickly disposed of McLaughlin before setting off after his Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard, who was seven seconds up the road. That gap narrowed to below six seconds as SVG ragged the Holden as much as he could, but Coulthard was onto his compatriot’s plan and managed the race perfectly to escape to an 11-second victory, becoming the eighth different winner in 14 races this season after Rick Kelly (Castrol Racing) took his first victory in over six years on Saturday.
Given SVG qualified on the fourth row and that Coulthard inherited the lead from P2 after McLaughlin messed up the start and controlled the race from there, the result did make you wonder what might have been had SVG started just a little closer to the front …
Sunday’s Coulthard-Van Gisbergen-McLaughlin podium was the first Kiwi 1-2-3 in the series’ history, which gave SVG something to smile about (other than making slight inroads into his championship deficit) afterwards.
“First time ever,” SVG beamed about the NZ trifecta in parc ferme.
“I haven’t driven that hard for a long time. Just pushing all the way, the car was awesome. We had a good strategy and just tried to get as much clear air as we could.
“We dropped back a bit, but in the middle stint I started to come back. Once we put the new tyres on, we just pushed hard.”
That lesson we mentioned earlier? That qualifying further back than you’d like (or than you should have) hurts at a track like Winton, and especially when you have some dramas like SVG’s teammate Jamie Whincup did in Saturday’s 40-lap race. The reigning series champion started 11th, pitted early to vault up the order, but then sunk again as he battled on with a broken front roll bar to finish 17th in a car he described as “wounded”, limping home to his worst result of the season in races he’s finished.
Sunday had to be better and was (well, a bit), but starting eighth and finishing in the same spot 92 minutes later saw him stuck in fifth place overall, 364 points behind McLaughlin up front.
“We fought hard inside the car, we had a good start but we were just caught up following cars the whole race,” Whincup said.
“I think we were probably good for fourth or fifth-quickest and should’ve ran there, but we just didn’t get the strategy right. We were unlucky with cars pitting on the same lap and we got held up, unfortunately. It was a fairly uneventful race from where I was.”
For third member of our Triple Eight trio, Craig Lowndes, Sunday at Winton marked his 650th race to extend his record number of starts in the category, all in a week where one media report said he was retiring (don’t worry, it was news to CL as well).
The qualifying lesson learned the hard way by the RBHRT duo applied to ‘Lowndesy’ as well – there wasn’t a lot wrong with his race pace on either Saturday or Sunday, but when you start 24th and 23rd in a 26-car field, the only way is up, clearly. Finishing 13th and 12th was a save of sorts, but nothing you’d get overly excited about, especially after Perth where he took his third podium of the year a fortnight ago.
Winton snapped a run of six straight top-10 finishes for Lowndes, who only retained third in the championship by virtue of Whincup’s struggles and a rough weekend for Erebus Penrite Racing’s David Reynolds, who was second-last on Saturday and 15th on Sunday.
Lowndes trails McLaughlin by 299 points ahead of the next round of the series, in a month’s time in Darwin (June 15-17) – the round that officially marks the halfway stage of what has been a very, very tricky championship to work out so far.