For the last race of the 2017 Supercars season, the series made its first appearance on the brand new Newcastle street circuit. Replacing the Homebush circuit that has hosted the finale since 2010, the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 didn’t fail to deliver, providing a beautiful backdrop to the most important and controversial races of the 2017 season.
While anyone emotionally invested in the championship result shed tears, either with joy or despair, those who were there to enjoy the racing were not short-changed with a pair of nail-biting races on show and an extraordinary championship decider.
- Jamie Whincup may have looked to be down and out halfway through lap one in Saturday’s debut race at Newcastle but by the end of the weekend, he was smiling like a Cheshire cat. The six-time champion did what he needed to do to add another title to his CV, bettering his own record to become a seven-time series champion while also taking a record-setting 108th race win. An opening lap collision with Michael Caruso in Saturday’s race, something he later admitted was his own fault, appeared to have ended the two way fight for the title, with the car in the garage to have bent right-front steering and control arms replaced. 13 laps down and last at the finish, Whincup salvaged what turned out to be 42 very valuable points. If the Saturday was what Triple Eight team boss Roland Dane called “the worst I can remember”, Sunday couldn’t have been any more different. Whincup won when it counted, finding out he had become champion amongst a heap of confusion over the final results. Despite only winning 4 races this season, Whincup played the role of Mr Consistent perfectly to take one of his most deserving championships yet.
- DJR Team Penske missed out on clinching the driver’s championship and ended Sunday with their heads hanging low but their efforts on Saturday will help the team greatly going in to next season. For the first time in the Car of the Future generation, a team other than Triple Eight will occupy the first (or technically the last) garage spot in the pit lane. Their results throughout the season plus a one-two finish on Saturday secured the team’s championship for them, moving them well up the pit order for 2018. In only the team’s third season since the merge between Australia’s Dick Johnson Racing and Roger Penske’s US outfit in 2015, they proved themselves as the squad to beat this year and will take that fight into Adelaide in 2018.
- David Reynolds reiterated the belief that he will be a force to be reckoned with next year by capping off a spellbinding season with two strong results. The Bathurst 1000 champion made two top five appearances over the two Newcastle 500 races including a podium to seal the deal in the final race of the year. Despite drama on Saturday where half of the car’s panels disappeared after hitting the wall (with assistance from Shane van Gisbergen), he came home in fifth. Sunday saw another valiant attempt to fend off the two Red Bulls but to no avail against the stronger cars. Managing to avoid drama he finish another credible fifth for the Erebus Motorsport team. His speed this year as well as a low likelihood of double stacking in 2018 means he could be the underdog when it comes to a title tilt next season.
- Scott McLaughlin won eight races this season as well as taking a record-breaking 16 pole positions in a year en route to what seemed like his maiden championship for the taking. After Whincup’s Saturday struggles, the Kiwi won and gave himself a 78-point margin to his title rival going in to Sunday’s final race. Starting from pole helped his cause and he looked on track to take the title early on, only needing to finish 11th to win. However, the plan started to unravel when he was pinged for speeding at pit lane entry. Having dropped him down the order, a dogged fightback saw him come within one place of getting to the magic 11 before contact with Simona De Silvestro’s Nissan earned McLaughlin a 15-second penalty. After serving the penalty, the fight became the biggest of his life, finally overtaking Moffat for 11th on the second to last lap. However, a mistake at turn one then allowed Craig Lowndes in alongside the Shell V-Power Racing Ford before the #17 car squeezed Lowndes’ Holden against the barrier. Handed down a third penalty, an additional 25 seconds to his race time demoted McLaughlin to 18th, and cost him his maiden Supercars title. While brain fades like Sunday show he still has some learning to do, McLaughlin’s determination to win will see him again fighting at the front next year.
- Not so much a loser, but more a case of Lady Luck not being on the Iron Lady’s side, Simona De Silvestro was having the weekend of her Supercars career, fighting the top order in Saturday’s race and passing where others weren’t even thinking of doing so. She was in fifth, an unheard of position for any rookie (though everyone having zero track knowledge levelled the playing field). A podium was on the cards as she was in a fighting fifth place until being pushed wide onto the marbles at the final turn, ending up in the fence. Another strong drive on Sunday saw her fighting for a top ten spot until being spun by the hard-charging McLaughlin, ending her season on a sour note. Now that she knows all of the tracks, next year will be the true test of the Swiss Miss’s abilities in the ever improving Nissan.
- James Courtney has shown himself as somewhat of a protected species this season, finishing races where the single season pay drivers would usually end up, with the only difference being that Courtney is a former series champion. A 19th place finish on Saturday was surprisingly the highlight of his Newcastle 500 weekend though he finished 12 places behind his team-mate, Scott Pye. Sunday’s affair was even worse after he stuck the #22 car in the fence in qualifying, bringing out the red flag and having to start from 24th. He didn’t improve on that position until the finish, being the last car home after incidents and a lack of pace. The 2010 champion will have to up his game massively before next year when the team expands to Walkinshaw Andretti United, a potential future driving force in the category.
The end of the season has created a whole heap of talking points to keep fans going over the break. While many doubt there is any passion remaining for Supercars, there’s no better showing of the love people have for the sport and its stars than the online and in-person response.