Shane van Gisbergen has closed the championship margin to just two points after taking the win in Saturday’s Supercars race in Pukekohe ahead of title rival Scott McLaughlin.The Kiwi duo had a hard fought race which resulted in the 2016 champion ending up on top thanks to fresher tyre life at the end of the race, putting himself into the lead with only a handful of laps to go.
van Gisbergen had to push for the win after he was given a five second penalty thanks to contact from McLaughlin, outdriving him in the final laps to win by just half a second.
The stage was set for a gripping race in qualifying as Scott McLaughlin took his 13th pole position of the year mid-way through the session as the threat of rain loomed. With sprinkles of water hitting the track, the #17 was parked in the garage as his title rival Shane van Gisbergen went back out for one last crack, jumping up to second on the grid reflecting the championship order on track.
Despite being on the dirty side of the track, McLaughlin converted from pole position to lead into turn one as van Gisbergen was hung out to dry on the outside of David Reynolds. On the opening lap, McLaughlin had to defend hard from van Gisbergen as the pair tried to push as hard as they dared on cold tyres.
Garth Tander was the first driver to effectively bow out of the race after two incidents, first spinning Craig Lowndes on lap one then being involved in a tangle which impacted his team-mate James Golding a few laps later.
Only five laps in, the rain started to come down lightly as McLaughlin’s lead to van Gisbergen started to tick down thanks to the pack catching up to Mark Winterbottom and James Courtney who had pitted on lap one.
The first safety car of the race came out on lap eight after Fabian Coulthard was unloaded at the final turn by Lee Holdsworth who had been bumped by Richie Stanaway. Coulthard’s car sustained serious damage but he emerged from the car unharmed just like his crash at the same point last year.
Triggering the first round of pit stops, the safety car saw the field jump into the pit lane as McLaughlin retained the effective lead over van Gisbergen with both going onto slick tyres. Chaz Mostert jumped Reynolds in the pit lane while Courtney led the race thanks to his lap one pit stop.
Racing resumed on lap 15 as Courtney led the pack and gapped them on the restart while McLaughlin struggled at the green flag, coming under fire from van Gisbergen but getting a bit of a gap on the lap after. van Gisbergen rattled the bar of McLaughlin at the hairpin on the restart lap, slowing the pair down and allowing Mostert to close up.
As McLaughlin started to gain a bit of time back on Courtney, van Gisbergen again ranged up to the back of the #17, showing good pace in the cool conditions. van Gisbergen got the pass done on lap 22, taking second place away from McLaughlin as the rain started to threaten again.
Courtney continued to lead as the laps in the second stint ticked away despite not really being in the hunt for the win given his early short fill in the race. van Gisbergen kept hounding the Walkinshaw Andretti United car for the lead, temporarily taking the lead before Courtney fought back around the outside at turns nine and ten, ending up on the inside and back in front at the final turn.
McLaughlin came in for his stop on lap 31, taking on a set of slicks and fuel, coming out in relatively clear air and only just getting baulked by Stanaway as van Gisbergen continued to fight Courtney. The #97 finally got past the #25 on lap 35, taking the lead as McLaughlin cut down the effective gap in clear air.
Mostert and Reynolds pitted at the end of lap 35, both coming out fair behind McLaughlin who was on a charge with no one to challenge him on track. With van Gisbergen still yet to come in, the fear of McLaughlin burning up his tyres started to occur as he set an electric pace.
Courtney’s stop came on lap 40, emerging back on track in 10th place which was an improvement on his qualifying form, proving the gamble paid off. Up front, van Gisbergen remained in the lead, looking to wait until the last possible moment to pit before any weather arrived which would play into his hands.
Coming for new tyres and fuel to the end on lap 46, van Gisbergen stopped from the lead. Being held up by Reynolds at the end of his last stint, he emerged back on the track behind McLaughlin as he fought with Mostert for second place, just taking the advantage.
Despite the cold tyres, van Gisbergen stayed ahead of Mostert as he started to close in on McLaughlin whose tyres were 15 laps older than those on the #97. van Gisbergen’s charge had a black cloud over it after race control announced he was under investigation of spinning his wheels in the pit stop just before the car dropped.
With only ten laps to go, van Gisbergen got past McLaughlin after a bump and run at the hairpin, gaining the lead but soon getting a five second penalty handed out due to the contact. On the road, van Gisbergen had to stretch a gap to McLaughlin and ended up coming home only 5.5 seconds clear, just enough for the win.
Mostert ended up coming home a relatively distant third with Reynolds far behind him. Jamie Whincup, hampered after double stacking behind van Gisbergen in the first round of stops, fought back for fifth place while Scott Pye, Cam Waters, Nick Percat, Courtney and Michael Caruso rounded out the top ten.
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