Quick Kiwi Scott McLaughlin has won the weekend’s opening race at Queensland Raceway after a dominant drive gave him maximum points in Saturday’s 120km sprint.
The championship leader extended his championship lead by winning and finishing well clear of his most immediate title rivals.
Pole position went to the #17 driver, his tenth of the year out of 15 races and his 13th straight front-row start. Craig Lowndes showed he still has good form at the “Paperclip”, putting in a qualifying time good enough for second on the grid. Chaz Mostert’s time was good enough for third while Tim Slade and Mark Winterbottom lined up behind him.
Off the line it was Lowndes who won the run to turn one, taking advantage of the cleaner side of the track to pass McLaughlin. Percat made a flying start and went three wide down the front straight.
Alex Rullo was the first driver of the race to retire after making contact with Simona De Silvestro on the opening lap at turn three. The damage made Rullo limp back to the pits when his LDM team decided to retire the car.
Lowndes became the first driver to stop on lap five for rear tyres and fuel, putting him in clear air. Jamie Whincup and Will Davison came in next, again for rear tyres only. There was a slight delay in letting Whincup out of the pit bay, meaning Jack Le Brocq came out ahead of him the next lap.
Back at the lead of the race, McLaughlin continued to set fastest laps, extending his lead over Mostert. Reynolds pitted on lap nine, coming out between Lowndes and Davison.
Lap 11 saw the leaders come in with McLaughlin taking four tyres but coming out behind Lowndes though with fresher rubber. It didn’t take long for the championship leader to regain the race lead, getting past the #888 car at the end of lap 12.
Tim Slade had pace to burn, gaining quickly on Lowndes after his pit stop, fighting for the position and eventually getting past on lap 16. Lowndes’ woes continued on lap 18 as Mostert hounded the back of the Commodore, getting past with ease at turn three.
Shane Van Gisbergen pitted just after the halfway mark, giving the on track lead to Coulthard and coming out just ahead of Percat. Coulthard came in next, leaving Pye in the race lead and the only driver to not stop. Coulthard rejoined behind Jason Bright in 16th.
Pye came in for his pit stop on lap 23, leaving McLaughlin in the race lead, almost two seconds ahead of Slade in second who was being hunted by Mostert in third. Coulthard kept moving up, getting past Bright with four fresh tyres on his Falcon.
After being one of the later cars to take a pit stop, Van Gisbergen had pace and got past Winterbottom for sixth, closing up on Rick Kelly in front and passing him at the end of the lap. Mostert was able to get by Slade though dropping time to McLaughlin.
Coulthard and Garth Tander had a decent scrap, racing fairly with the #12 prevailing, then taking Reynolds soon after for ninth place. Van Gisbergen continued his charge forwards, closing up on Lowndes quickly who had tyres nearly 20 laps older than his stable-mate.
The better tyre life paid off when the defending champion took fourth on lap 32, getting much better drive out of the final corner. Coulthard’s charge continued when he made his way past Percat, moving further up the order soon after by getting past Winterbottom and Kelly for sixth.
Reynolds got past Bright who was involved in a spirited battle with Bright and Tander with Holdsworth joining in the scrap. Percat muscled his way by the Nissan of Kelly for seventh position. Winterbottom’s car was diagnosed with a broken header as he held a comfortable gap over tenth placed Reynolds.
Bright retired with only a few laps to go, a stuck throttle being the culprit behind the problem. De Silvestro suffered a tyre failure on the approach to turn three, luckily far enough away from the corner to safely pull the car up.
As McLaughlin started the final lap, Van Gisbergen homed in on Slade, ranging up on the BJR Commodore’s bumper for the final podium spot. The Kiwi was able to get past by pulling a criss-cross on Slade in to turn four, nabbing the final podium spot at the death.
McLaughlin claimed an easy win ahead of Mostert, Van Gisbergen, Slade, Lowndes, Coulthard, Percat, R. Kelly, Winterbottom and Reynolds. Jamie Whincup had a woeful day, finishing 20th, one position behind highest-placed wildcard finisher Le Brocq.
Image via Shell V-Power Racing Team