Mark Winterbottom has seen off a late charge by Shane Van Gisbergen to win the final race at Hidden Valley by less than a second.
It was a tense last few laps with Van Gisbergen driving the VF commodore to its limits, but Winterbottom was able to hold off the Kiwi and take not only race 19, but also control of the championship.
The race saw David Reynolds get off to an excellent start, managing to skip past the 888 Red Bull VF on the T1 exit. Jamie Whincup had a poor start, being swallowed up by the pack and dropping to 13th position in the early stages of the race.
Whincup wasn’t the only one having troubles with tyre strategy, as his team-mate Craig Lowndes battled around the track also dropping quickly, while cars on soft compound took charge.
Ten laps down of the 69 lap race and it was Reynolds still out in front and started to take a commanding lead. Chad Mostert and James Courtney were next behind in second and third and to finish the top five front runners it was Winterbottom and Garth Tander slightly behind.
With lap times slowing for those on soft tyres, the Red Bull cars were into the pits and took on 4 new Dunlop’s and fuel for the remaining 50 laps. Robert Dahlgren went off at Turn 5 and brought out the safety car, as well as a small fire along the fence line giving an opportunity for many teams to pit.
Racing resumed on lap 30 and the top order was Reynolds, Mostert and Winterbottom. Craig Lowndes was forced back into the pits early after some contact with Mostert and Davison, forcing him to use more tyres early.
Car 7 was forced off the road, causing severe rear end wheel damage following a 3 car pileup, Courtney got past Jason Bright to gain 3rd position, and Van Gisbergen pitted for a fresh set of rubber and was fuelled until the finish.
With less than 20 laps remaining Bright was off at turn 1 due to a brake lock up and to add insult to injury he also received a PLP for spinning his wheels whilst in the pits, Whincup and Van Gisbergen were storming through the crowd with a fresh set of rubber, and on lap 57 it was Winterbottom, Whincup and Van Gisbergen out in front.
With 9 laps remaining, Winterbottom was 2.1 seconds up the road from Whincup who was chasing a never before done triple win at Darwin. Van Gisbergen was unstoppable, getting by Whincup and was on a charge up to Winterbottom.
Tim Slade is currently under investigation for allegedly using the wrong compound tyres during race 19.
Images via Christian Hartung