After a trip west, the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship headed to northern Victoria for the Winton SuperSprint. The stand-off at the top of the table ensued with just 37 points splitting the top four drivers by the end of the weekend, as all of them stood on the podium across the two races. While rain threatened to spoil the party on Friday, fans were treated to some great racing in the dry.
- Six-time champion Jamie Whincup may still be awaiting his first win of the season but he’s showing consistency to perform which has arguably been lacking in years gone by. Combined with his two podiums in Perth, he again took two second-place finishes at Winton, crucially ahead of Fabian Coulthard in both races. This means there are only four points between him and the rival Ford driver heading into Darwin. Had he not ran wide and handed team-mate Shane van Gisbergen the lead following a safety car restart, he would be in front in the points standings. Sitting on 104 wins since last December, the Red Bull Racing pilot is just one victory off matching team-mate’s Craig Lowndes’ all time record, a feat that Whincup will surely surpass very soon.
- Championship leader Fabian Coulthard was unable to climb higher than the last step of the podium though kept his nose clean over the course of the weekend. By his own standards, Coulthard’s qualifying performance wasn’t as good as he would have hoped, but the strategies and pace over the two races meant he salvaged more points than three of his four championship rivals. His one-lap speed isn’t as good as Shell V-Power Racing team-mate Scott McLaughlin’s, but Coulthard’s experience means he often outperforms the younger driver in the races. A spirited battle with Whincup at the end of race two will give the points leader confidence going to Darwin.
- Race winners, Scott McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen, both showed encouraging signs of speed and good awareness. McLaughlin took pole position for both races, making it six poles from ten races this season. He capitalised in race one, running away with a relatively easy victory, his third in a row and a new first for the DJR Team Penske driver. Meanwhile, Van Gisbergen made the best of others’ mistakes on Sunday in race two, passing McLaughlin who was lacking speed, Coulthard who was on a different strategy and Whincup after his mistake, to take the win. Both the young Kiwis are still easily in the hunt for the championship and will be looking to push harder at the next round.
- The scrap for tenth place is often important in Formula One as it signifies the last of the points positions, but it’s hard to find an excuse for the behaviour of Nick Percat and James Courtney in race one. Percat, seemingly struggling with his car, and Courtney, battled hard in the dying laps on Saturday, going back to the old bump-and-run style racing. Unfortunately for Courtney, the race ended on the last lap in the sand trap as he and Percat tangled coming out of turn three. Amidst a year where Walkinshaw is struggling for points, their drivers need to pick their battles and Courtney showed a lack of emotional intelligence which costed him valuable positions.
- Going in to the Winton SuperSprint weekend Nissan Motorsport had just five top-10 finishes among its four cars and were struggling for consistent car speed on the new-for-2017 Dunlop tyres. And with nothing going their way, it was to be another round to forget for the factory Nissan team. From Rick Kelly being spun out of a good position by Tim Slade in race one to Michael Caruso being taken out by wildcard driver Shae Davies in race two, the on track results were less than desired. Worse was yet to come as two significant penalties were handed down to the team: a $3000 fine and 30-point deduction for a pit stop drama plus a $10000 ($7500 suspended) fine and 34 point deduction for failing to put an SD card in Todd Kelly’s onboard data camera. Mistakes like these need to be eliminated for the factory squad to maintain the levels of professionalism required at the top of the field.
- Despite fighting at the top in race one, things quickly went downhill for Chaz Mostert when the Prodrive pilot had a tailshaft failure in Saturday’s 120km race. The DNF left him with no points, dropping him further away from the points leaders. While his Prodrive Racing team got the car out for Sunday’s race, Mostert could only qualify in 17th. Coming home in eighth, it was a solid drive but again far away from his championship rivals. Darwin hasn’t been a terrible track for him in the past, so he’ll be looking to reclaim some points when the series heads north.
While Coulthard leads the points, it is still anyone’s game this year as the DJR Team Penske cars battle the two lead Triple Eight machines for the title. The Darwin Triple Crown will be held in a few weeks time from the 16th to 18th of June and we can’t wait to see how it plays out.