A weekend in the Apple Isle saw the Kiwis yet again dominate proceedings with both races being won by drivers from across the ditch though it was their cars which had got people talking.
In the break between the Melbourne 400 and the third round at Symmons Plains, Supercars conducted tests on the centre of gravity of each marque. From those tests, they realigned the ballast weight in the Holden Commodore and Ford Mustang to try and even up the parity of the category after Ford had taken the first six wins of the year.
While the changes ultimately didn’t change much in the results, the racing proved to be as close as ever around the shortest track of the year in the first visit to a permanent circuit this season.
With 134 laps of racing completed, here’s our winners and losers for the Tasmanian round.
- Shane van Gisbergen came to Symmons Plains with a black cloud hanging over his head after a disastrous campaign at the Melbourne 400, slipping away from the top of the championship. The 2016 champion bounced back at the Apple Isle, leaving the event as the round winner after two podium visits, including a victory, over the two races. The first race saw him qualify in third place but shuffle down slightly to fourth in the opening stint. Running on a different strategy to those around him, van Gisbergen went long in his first stint to get better tyre life towards the end, hunting down Mark Winterbottom in the final laps to deny the Team 18 a first podium with his new team. Improving the car overnight, van Gisbergen took pole for Sunday’s 200km outing and controlled the race at the front, again preserving his tyres throughout the race to have a car to fight with at the end. His win was the first for the Holden Commodore this year, having to wait eight races for the first victory. Despite sitting 166 points away from the championship lead in fourth, a comeback from SVG can never be written off especially this early in the year.
- Scott McLaughlin may have been knocked by a bout of illness on Saturday but that didn’t stop the series champion from extending his hotstreak in 2019. Though he ‘only’ qualified in second, a great jump off the line saw him jump to first before the second turn where he broke free from the pack, checking out to the front and hardly ever looking back en route to his sixth win from seven races. While the extra weight in the Mustang’s roof didn’t look to affect the Saturday car, McLaughlin was relatively off the pace on Sunday, qualifying fourth for the race. An early stop on an alternate strategy may have netted him track position at the end of the first round of pit stops but he ultimately faded throughout his stints, nursing the #17 home to fourth at the chequered flag. Heading in to Phillip Island where he clean swept the races last year and in 2016, McLaughlin leads the championship by 124 points and a swag of confidence for the rest of the season.
- Fabian Coulthard is showing a level of energised form in 2019 after struggling last season to fight at the pointy end of the pack. The DJR Team Penske driver featured twice on the podium in Tasmania, two years on for taking the team’s first victory at the same venue. Qualifying fourth for the opening hit out, Coulthard’s rocket start and superior pace to the Triple Eight built Commodores around him put him up into second, playing tailgunner to team-mate McLaughlin. He stayed there until the finish and took the confidence into race two, starting on the front row. While he ultimately didn’t have the pace to outshine van Gisbergen on track, a solid second placed finish is exactly what the Kiwi needed to get his confidence back after a tricky year last year. Currently sitting second in the points, Coulthard will be focusing on mounting a championship charge on his team mate this year as well as assisting his team towards a victory in the teams championship.
- Jamie Whincup entered the round sitting second on the points, still yet to score a win but hot on the heels of Scott McLaughlin after a consistent round at the Melbourne 400. Despite being the fastest in practice ahead of Saturday qualifying, breaking the lap record in the process, Whincup made a crucial error at the hairpin in qualifying, ending up in the sand trap and bringing out the red flag. Starting 15th in the race, he quickly moved up a few spots but undid all of his hard work when he made contact with Chaz Mostert at turn six, puncturing his front tyre and going a few laps down. He ended up finishing last of the runners and didn’t have an improvement in luck on Sunday, ending up 13th on the grid. A vintage Whincup fightback up the order over the 84 laps saw him come home in fifth; better than it could have been but worse than desired. Though he sits third in the standings, 160 points separates him from the number one spot which could turn around in the blink of an eye.
- Anton De Pasquale will be getting sick of knocking on the door of success only to be cruelly denied after another bout of bad luck in Tasmania. Consistently performing in the top ten this year, De Pasquale achieved a ninth place finish on the back of qualifying eighth in race one, again heading off drivers from much bigger teams for a top ten finish. Race two however saw cruel luck put an end to a good race from sixth on the grid when his car developed an issue in the closing laps. Losing a bolt from the shifter, his Erebus Commodore was stuck in one gear for the rest of the race and although De Pasquale wanted it fixed, his team elected to keep him out. The unclear communication between driver and team has been a persistent issue since it came to the fore with the David Reynolds fiasco at Bathurst last year and is something Erebus will need to work on if they want both of their drivers to truly take the battle to the big teams.
- Jack Le Brocq must be wondering what’s changed over the past 12 months after revelations that the Tekno driver may lose his seat after the next round in Phillip Island. A rookie last year, Le Brocq was the best of the debutantes in 2018, posting his best result of the year at Symmons Plains with fifth place and slowing becoming a feature of the front half of the pack. With a cloud hanging over his future, Le Brocq had to perform to keep his career alive but struggled to do so, not getting into the top 20 in either race. Qualifying 20th for both races, he lost spots in both outings, resulting in finishes of 22nd on both days. Though some may point at the team lacking the performance needed to fight at the front rather than its driver, Tekno will be hoping that a possible change of pilot (potentially for the young Alex Rullo) will turn their issues around.
A big weekend of racing will be followed by another as the Supercars paddock turns around across Bass Strait to head straight over to Phillip Island for a back-to-back weekend of racing. A fast, flowing circuit, Phillip Island is the opposite of Symmons Plains in nearly every way and well complete the true test of parity between the field this season.
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