Championship leader Scott McLaughlin has extended his margin in his title tilt after winning the opening race of the Melbourne 400 round from pole position.

The defending series champion led from lights to flag in a commanding drive which has seen him now win three races in a row, leading his team-mate Fabian Coulthard home to the top step on the podium.

The 25 lap race saw battles up and down the pack but the biggest talking point was the performance of the Mustang men who swept the top five spots when the chequered flag dropped.

Scott McLaughlin qualified on pole yesterday for the opening race of the weekend, heading a DJR Team Penske 1-2 after Fabian Coulthard put his Ford Mustang in position two alongside his team-mate.

The duo headed up a group of four Fords in the top five with Cam Waters and Will Davison lining up on the second row. Shane van Gisbergen started in fifth with Tim Slade, Jamie Whincup, Nick Percat, James Courtney and Mark Winterbottom filling up the first five rows.

A lightning start for McLaughlin off the line put him well away from the chasing pack into turn one as everyone got off the grid safely. Coulthard latched himself onto the rear wing of McLaughlin and the DJR Team Penske duo opened up a gap to Waters in third.

The opening laps saw the leading Fords of McLaughlin, Coulthard and Waters run away while van Gisbergen in fourth acted as a cork in the bottle, backing the pack behind him up and straying far from the leaders.

Chaz Mostert made his way through the field after starting 22nd, nibbling at the heels of those in the top ten as the first round of pit stops cycled through, triggered by Will Davison on lap eight.

From there, the field stopped at different times, splitting their tyre strategies on one of the highest degradation tracks on the calendar. Coulthard was the first to come in after Davison, emerging just ahead of his fellow Mustang driver.

Leader McLaughlin took to the lane on lap 12, shadowed by Waters and the hard-charging Mostert. McLaughlin returned to the track in the effective race lead with Waters filing in behind Coulthard while Mostert ended up in a top ten position.

van Gisbergen was the last of anyone to stop on lap 14, looking to burn up the super soft Dunlop rubber in the final laps to drag the #97 Triple Eight machine up the order from sixth.

Both he and Mostert abused their Dunlop tyres in the second stint of the race with van Gisbergen making his way up to fourth late in the day while Mostert continued his trailblazing run, putting in the fastest lap of the race en route to challenge for a top five in the last five laps.

van Gisbergen’s good luck came to an end when an engine failure at the start of lap 22 forced him to pull up on the exit of turn two, earning the #97 a DNF though fortunately it came in one of the smallest points paying races of the year.

The Triple Eight driver’s retirement meant there were five Mustangs in the top five with only Tickford’s Lee Holdsworth outside of the first five spots, instead fighting to move up from ninth.

Up front, McLaughlin couldn’t be stopped as he and Fabian Coulthard completed another DJR Team Penske 1-2, leading home Cam Waters who made his second podium appearance in as many races.

Will Davison held off Chaz Mostert for fourth as Tim Slade, James Courtney, Jamie Whincup, Lee Holdsworth and David Reynolds all finished in the top ten as Triple Eight and Shane van Gisbergen have been left to look for answers around his DNF.

Image via Ignite Image

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Jordan Mulach

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Canberra born and raised journalist, living in Brisbane. Sports Media graduate from the University of Canberra. iRacing addict