History, it seems, will have to wait. Jamie Whincup came to Queensland Raceway at Ipswich for races 15 and 16 of this year’s Supercars championship dead-level with Triple Eight stablemate Craig Lowndes on 105 victories, the most in the sport’s history. But on a tough weekend for the six-time champion, it was Red Bull Holden Racing Team partner Shane van Gisbergen who flew the Holden flag on a weekend where Ford made every post a winner.
Championship leader Scott McLaughlin took pole in both races and won Saturday’s 39-lap outing, with Chaz Mostert flipping the script in Sunday’s 65-lap feature to take to the top step of the podium. Van Gisbergen finished third in both races to stop the Holden rot, but the big talking point on Saturday was his teammate Whincup, who, with a chance to set a new Supercars benchmark, had one of those races that occasionally happens even to the best of them.
At a circuit where he and his team have enjoyed so much success, J-Dub had, on Saturday, what could best be described as a ‘mare – after qualifying ninth, he was demoted five places on the grid for contact with James Moffat in qualifying, and then had a horror first pit stop where there was an issue with the air spike to jack up the car, leaving him at the back of the pack. A determined salvage mission could only get him up to 20th at the flag, and with McLaughlin winning Race 15, a six-point championship deficit to the Penske driver suddenly ballooned to 111.
It would have been hard for Sunday to get much worse for J-Dub, and he showed his steel by qualifying an excellent third for the feature race, and making a jack-rabbit start to jump to second as McLaughlin got a tardy getaway from pole.
Whincup jumped Mostert for the lead in the pits when they both took service on lap 12, but Mostert returned the favour when the pair made their second stops.
McLaughlin was flying in the latter stages and passed Whincup, and J-Dub dropped to fourth when Van Gisbergen, on much fresher rubber, came through in the shadows of the chequered flag.
McLaughlin’s double-podium weekend means Whincup’s deficit to the series leader is now 129 points, but he stayed in second place overall, and has his eyes set on the next meeting at Sydney Motorsport Park. Good things happen to J-Dub at Eastern Creek – he won his 100th career race there 12 months ago – and he’s hopeful that will continue after a weekend he’ll likely to be keen to see the back of.
“The positive is we had a better day than yesterday, we did things right but we’re disappointed as well,” Whincup said on Sunday.
“We had the second-quickest car as well. We were just getting too aggressive and it cost us a podium. Anyway, that’s the way it goes. We’ll take the points and move on.”
For SVG, a pair of thirds was as good as he could have done, particularly as he started Saturday’s Race 15 from seventh on the grid, and Sunday’s feature from fifth.
McLaughlin’s strong weekend meant he dropped points in the championship chase – he’s now 261 adrift of his Kiwi compatriot – but the Giz’s pace late in Sunday’s race on fresher rubber was electric, and bodes well for the races to come.
“I was pretty happy with my car in qualifying but that’s the best thing with our series, I was seventh (actually fifth), but only a tenth off,” SVG said afterwards.
“In the race it was a decent first stint, and we took the route of doing three equal stints like yesterday and were on track to finish fifth. Definitely the safety car helped us and got us a couple of spots there, but we just didn’t quite have enough to get to the front. The car was good, but we were just a bit too far back.”
For third member of our Triple Eight trio, Lowndes, QR was something of a breakthrough weekend after the veteran had been struggling to unlock qualifying pace from his TeamVortex Commodore all season long. Saturday rapidly changed all that – Lowndes qualified second, a miniscule 0.008secs behind McLaughlin, and he finished a very convincing fifth after briefly leading the race with an aggressive pit stop strategy, his best result since Race 4 of the season at Symmons Plains way back in April.
MORE: Craig Lowndes is itching for Ipswich
Sunday was solid too, a sixth place from seventh on the grid and less than five seconds behind the winner clearly a step in the right direction. ‘Lowndesy’ stayed in seventh overall in the series standings, and is just 18 points behind Mark Winterbottom in sixth.
As we mentioned earlier, Sydney Motorsport Park is up next for the Supercars series from August 18-20, and as the final round before the endurance season kicks into gear, expect the tension to only rise as Triple Eight – and the rest of the field – attempt to hunt down in-form DJR Team Penske.