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Podiums and plenty to ponder in Adelaide

RBHRT took home three trophies from the Supercars season-opener, but know there’s plenty of work ahead to rein in the reigning champs.

By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com

Two races, three trophies, two top-three championship positions and one very clear goal of what’s required to get better; that was the takeaway on the Adelaide city streets for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team last weekend, with Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup getting their Supercars seasons off to solid starts in a sweltering SA capital.

A good result? Sure, when only one driver, Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) left Adelaide happier, the reigning series champion annexing both wins over the weekend’s two 250-kilometre races to get his title defence off to the best possible start in the new Ford Mustang. But for SVG, in particular? After the Kiwi ace had won the past four races on the old Adelaide F1 circuit in 2017 and 2018, a pair of third places was OK, but nothing more.

“A tough weekend,” was Whincup’s succinct yet spot-on summation for RBHRT of the 2019 season-opener, the seven-time series champ having to settle for seventh on Sunday after trailing McLaughlin home in second place 24 hours earlier. Neither J-Dub, nor any other driver, could live with McLaughlin’s pace all weekend, the Kiwi winning Saturday’s race by over 12 seconds, and pulling up to take victory on Sunday by 2.3secs in a race that ended after 71 of the scheduled 78 laps, Race 2 of the season delayed by circuit repairs before the lights went out.

SVG trails McLaughlin, his 2018 title adversary, by 42 points after two races which ended up with the same result, but took very different paths for him to get there. Van Gisbergen qualified fifth on Saturday but was up to third early on lap one after a confusing start, pole-sitter Fabian Coulthard (Team Penske) moving out of his grid box before the lights went out and eventually being penalised, and fellow front-row starter Whincup almost going with him before eventually getting wrong-footed and jumped by SVG.

Whincup would eventually pass his teammate back after Van Gisbergen had a moment at Turn 14 on lap five, and through divergent pit stop strategies and on a day where Adelaide’s early autumn topped out at just below 40 degrees, the two RBHRT entries remained in that order, second and third at the flag behind the faraway McLaughlin.

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“With any podium position we will take it and run, but we did get a little bit dusted at the same time by Car 17 (McLaughlin), so it’s sweet and sour,” Whincup said.

“We have some work to do for tomorrow and moving forward for the following race meetings. I think with the change in the rules with the springs and our first attempt at it we did a really good job.”

While Whincup was pragmatic, SVG was processing a third place that was anything other than straightforward, or comfortable.

“It was freaking hot and we weren’t exactly quick enough as we would have liked,” he said.

“It did feel quite good in the car, the team worked hard on cooling in the car and it was a lot better than I thought it would be. My foot was hot and at one point it left like my right boot was coming undone, but we decided not to change shoes during the pit stop. I was using my left foot to accelerate down the straights so I could give my right foot a break.”

Fortunately for everyone, fans, drivers and mechanics alike, Sunday’s sun was decidedly less intense, but qualifying painted a cloudy picture for RBHRT, SVG scraping into the Shootout in 10th, and Whincup missing it altogether in 12th after admitting to an error on his flying lap. SVG was far from deterred, though, and moved all the way up to second in the top-10 push for pole, his 1min 19.9263secs stunner the only driver to get within half a second of pole-man McLaughlin’s time. “I just did stupid stuff and came out second,” SVG shrugged.

The scene was set for the two title protagonists from last year to resume that battle when the lights (eventually) went out on Sunday afternoon, and the Kiwi duo ran side by side through a breath-holding first two corners before McLaughlin inched ahead as the opening lap developed.

And it was there he stayed, McLaughlin leading home an early-pitting Cameron Waters in a Mustang 1-2, with SVG all over the back of Waters in the final laps before running out of time to snatch second place.

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“We made some big gains with the car, we found a little something for the Shootout which really helped and then for the race the car was much better than yesterday,” he said.

“I knew if we were going to contend for the win, we had to get through the first two laps in the front which we didn’t manage to do. It was an awesome little tussle, we just didn’t have the pace today.”

Whincup’s race was always going to be a complicated one after his worst starting spot in 22 races (he took off from 14th in Race 11 of last year in Perth), and he had to briefly double-stack behind SVG at his second pit stop before settling for seventh and a decent slab of points considering his lowly grid spot.

“We made up some spots today after a poor qualifying run and we’re happy about that, but should have been a lot better,” Whincup said after finishing Adelaide on 234 points, 66 behind the perfect McLaughlin.

“The car wasn’t quick enough and we made a bit of an error in the pits, which affected the results and probably should have at least been a couple of spots higher.  Once again, a bit sweet and sour.”

J-Dub will be hoping for more of the former and less of the latter at the next race weekend, as the Supercars series steps out at another F1 circuit, Albert Park at the Australian Grand Prix weekend in Melbourne from March 14-17. Whincup had a win, four podiums and two poles across the four races at the GP 12 months ago, while SVG will be hungrier for more the pair of fourth places that doubled as his best results around the lake last March.