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Start me up: SVG shines in the sun in Ipswich

Two awesome Supercars starts saw Shane van Gisbergen to a win and a second place at Queensland Raceway, while a matter of metres stopped Jamie Whincup from joining him.

By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com

 

Remember the old saying that it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish? What if you could excel at both? That’s what Shane van Gisbergen will be hoping after two jack-rabbit getaways produced a win and a second place as the Supercars series swung through Ipswich in Queensland last weekend, two results that did nothing – numerically speaking – to change the shape of the championship proper.

Confused? Don’t be? SVG was second to series leader Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) in Saturday’s 39-lap journey around the ‘paperclip’, while the roles (and those positions) were reversed in Sunday’s 65-lap outing, meaning Van Gisbergen’s 131-point deficit in the standings stayed at 131 with 20 races of the 31-race campaign now run and won. SVG’s pace bodes well for the future and that finish of the season we referenced earlier in Newcastle in November, but he’ll need the ever-consistent McLaughlin to slip up if he’s to eat into his compatriot’s advantage.

But back to those starts. SVG qualified a disappointing (by his lofty standards) eighth for Race 19 on Saturday, but absolutely nailed it when the lights went out, picking up five spots on the first lap to place him in a position to get a podium finish, which he did when he finished 4.3secs behind pole-sitter McLaughlin.

If Saturday was the best start of the year, that title lasted all of 24 hours when SVG did it even better on Sunday, blasting past pole-sitter McLaughlin from second on the grid to such an extent that he didn’t even need to cover his line into the super-fast right-hander at Turn 1 at Queensland Raceway to head the snarling pack.

From there, SVG and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team could control the narrative, and once each driver’s second and final pit stops shook out, it was Van Gisbergen in control, beating his countryman by 2.3secs to make it one win-all for the weekend.

SVG was stoked with his starts, even if Sunday’s race ended up with him a touch sweatier than he would have liked after his cool suit gave up the ghost during the 65 laps.

Read: SVG’s insane start from P8 – P3 in less than 20 seconds.

“We know our race pace is awesome this weekend, so qualifying was the biggest focus for us,” he said.

“Our start today was key, we went straight off the line and the thing just hooked up, it was amazing. To go two days in a row doing that is good, so hopefully that carries on. The fight in the race was intense the whole way, we just kept calm and didn’t react when they pitted.

“I didn’t even notice my cool suit failed, I only realised how hot it was when they told me post-race.”

So what was it that sparked the two brilliant getaways? SVG was being a touch economical with details, but credited a change the team made before the Darwin round in June for the improvement – and in his usual matter-of-fact way.

“I was always good at starts in motocross and junior formula … but since moving to Tekno (in 2013) I’ve been pretty shit,” he said.

“The design office was free to make something I’ve wanted and we fixed it, so far. It’s just a small tweak. It’s creature comforts and it’s what you’re used to … it seems to be working so far.”

Read: Triple Eight HQ bursting at the seams

Sunday was SVG’s fourth victory of the season and second in as many events after winning on Sunday in Townsville earlier this month, but McLaughlin’s unerring consistency – he has 10 pole positions in 20 races and seven wins to his name – makes the Ford man a tough customer to hunt down. But Van Gisbergen is doing all he can, his Ipswich weekend making it seven podiums in the past eight races as he builds towards a strong finish to the year.

While SVG nailed two podiums from two at Triple Eight’s test track, RBHRT teammate Jamie Whincup couldn’t have come much closer to joining him, J-Dub finishing fourth in both races. Saturday saw him finish an agonising 0.042secs behind T8 stablemate Craig Lowndes, while on Sunday, the defending champion harried Chaz Mostert (Supercheap Auto Racing) throughout the final laps, but finished a tenth of a second from third.

After a pair of front-row starts in Townsville a fortnight ago, Whincup qualified on the third and fourth row of the grid for the two races at QR, and while strategy and decent car speed got him to within a sniff of a podium, he left Ipswich in third place in the championship, but 451 points behind McLaughlin.

“Today went to plan for us, we obviously had our back against the wall after a tough qualifying session,” Whincup said.

“We made a decent start, our first good start in the last four which was nice. I think (race engineer David) Cauchi did a good job strategy-wise to get us some clean air. We ran on long in the first stint, put a heap of fuel in so we were way back in the race, but then we got to fourth and chased Chaz down. We were very close to a podium this weekend but we’ll take two podiums from two for the team.”

More: How SVG made his thrilling win on Sunday at home

For Lowndes, who announced his retirement from full-time racing at the last round in Townsville, Ipswich had been a happy hunting ground in the past, 12 of his 106 race wins coming at the venue where he’s done (by his estimation) “about a million laps” in testing and racing for over two decades.

Lowndes was almost as busy out of the car as he was behind the wheel last weekend, a steady stream of autograph-hunters and selfie-seekers waiting patiently outside the Autobarn Lowndes Racing garage whenever he wasn’t on track, and rewarded his legion of fans with a vintage drive from 10th to the podium on Saturday.

“I want to push hard until the end of the season; every round we go to, it’s going to be my last round, we’re going to talk about it again,” he said on Saturday.

“I’m just really enjoying it and I’m more relaxed now, I’m really thankful, I wake up every morning and still feel I’ve made the right decision.”

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Lowndes qualified and finished eighth in Sunday’s race, fading late after running as high as fifth in the middle stages to leave QR (for the last time) in fifth place in the standings.

Next up for Lowndes, SVG and J-Dub? A first for everyone besides Lowndes, as the series goes into the night at Sydney Motorsport Park for the Sydney Supernight 300 on Saturday August 4, a 77-lap race that starts under lights after 7pm local time and carries a whopping 300 points for the winner as a one-off event on the schedule on the venue’s short (2.8km) Druitt Circuit. Which might be a good omen for Lowndes fans, given ‘CL’ won two of the three races after dark as a rookie 22 years ago …