Defending series champion Jamie Whincup has taken his third win of the year in commanding fashion after dominating the opening race of the weekend in Townsville.
After 20 starts at the Far North Queensland track, the Triple Eight driver took his tenth win at the Reid Park Circuit, helping his chances of getting back into the title fight after dropping back over the last few rounds.
Qualifying saw Scott McLaughlin keep moving forward from being slightly down in practice, taking pole for the weekend’s first race. He just pipped defending champion Jamie Whincup who holds the record of the most wins around the Reid Park circuit. Shane Van Gisbergen finished the session just behind his team-mate while David Reynolds and Craig Lowndes made it into the top five, reflecting the championship.
McLaughlin got the holeshot off the line, beating his rivals to turn one but left himself prone to attack under braking, only just holding out Whincup at turn two and Reynolds at turn four. While he retained the lead for the opening lap, a big dive at turn two by Whincup on the next lap wasn’t defended, allowing the Commodore through.
Whincup started to stretch his legs up front as McLaughlin kept a steady margin to Van Gisbergen behind him, playing the championship game to win the war not the battle. Reynolds became the first of the leaders to pit on lap 20 with the Kiwis who were in front of him coming in next time around.
Van Gisbergen was able to get past McLaughlin in the stop though both emerged ahead of Reynolds. Whincup came in on lap 22, coming out with a clear gap to the rest while Lowndes only just came out behind McLaughlin, making for a close exit at turn one.
Out front at half distance, Whincup continued to pull away from the pack, creating a sizeable margin to Van Gisbergen who has started to just move ahead of McLaughlin. The DJR Team Penske driver was the meat in a Triple Eight bread sandwich, Lowndes hounding him for the final podium spot.
The duo came in for their last stops on lap 43, McLaughlin’s shorter fill meaning he retained the position leaving the pits. Reynolds was jumped by Tim Slade after his stop as Van Gisbergen came in to prevent the undercut from McLaughlin, only just coming out ahead due to a long stop.
As Whincup pitted from the lead, the trio fighting for the spots behind him continued to duke it out with Van Gisbergen the cork in the bottle ahead of McLaughlin and Lowndes. A heated few laps produced a few close moments but the order remained the same with 20 laps left.
A late safety car was deployed on lap 55 due to debris on the circuit, further bunching up the battle for second as Whincup’s lead evaporated though the car pace gave him little worries. Tim Blanchard got inbetween Whincup and Van Gisbergen, giving the #1 car a bit more room to breathe.
The race resumed on lap 58 with Whincup opening up a gap to his team-mate who quickly cleared Blanchard, the BJR driver subsequently holding up McLaughlin and Lowndes over the subsequent lap. A bit further back, Reynolds tried to make a move on Mark Winterbottom, later exposing himself to Fabian Coulthard for sixth, the DJR Team Penkse driver then getting past the #5 Tickford car.
In the last ten laps, the Red Bull pair opened up a big gap at the front but it was Van Gisbergen who had the pace, closing up on Whincup as the lap counter ticked down. McLaughlin started to open a slight gap over Lowndes who was soon having to watch his mirrors for the hard-charging Coulthard behind.
It ended up as an easy win for Whincup who headed a Red Bull 1-2 ahead of Van Gisbergen with McLaughlin taking the final step on the podium. Lowndes and Coulthard remained in fourth and fifth with Winterbottom, Reynolds, Cam Waters, Will Davison and Nick Percat rounding out the ten.
Image via Red Bull Holden Racing Team