Coming off the back of another successful night round in Perth, the Supercars Championship travels from the west coast to the eastern countryside, arriving at Winton Motor Raceway in Victoria.
|Winton Motor Raceway|
|Location||Benalla, Victoria||Circuit Length||3.000 km / 1.864 mi|
|Opened||1961||First ATCC Event||1985|
|Direction||Clockwise||Race Lap Record||1:19.7092 – Fabian Coulthard (2016)|
Self-described as ‘the nation’s Action Track’, Winton Raceway’s tight and twisty rural layout is actually the slowest circuit on the entire Supercars calendar. A regular feature on the Supercars calendar, the rural venue is one of the tightest and most technical circuits of the season which often separates the great teams from the backmarkers.
Once described by Dick Johnson as “like running a marathon around a clothesline”, the affectionately named Benalla-schleife is the home track for the Victorian teams and is situated close to Brad Jones Racing’s headquarters in Albury-Wodonga.
With twelve corners in all separated by a succession of short straights, one might think that the track would prove tough to overtake on, but that’s actually far from the case.
A top speed of 225km/h can be achieved on the main straight, but the pack has to treat the opening sequence of corners with great care on the first lap. It’s not unusual to see plenty of carnage as the field tries to switchback its way through the Turn 1/2 complex.
|2019 Virgin Australian Supercars Championship – Truck Assist Winton SuperSprint|
|Event Dates||25-26 May 2019||Format||SuperSprint|
|Co-Driver Practice Session||Sat 09:20-09:50||Free Practice Session 1||Sat 10:40-11:20|
|Race 13 Qualifying (Part 1)||Sat 13:10-13:20||Race 13 Qualifying (Part 2)||Sat 13:25-13:35|
|Race 13 Qualifying (Part 3)||Sat 13:40-13:50||Race 13 (40 laps)||Sat 15:50-16:55|
|Free Practice Session 2||Sun 09:20-09:50||Race 14 Qualifying (Part 1)||Sun 11:10-11:20|
|Race 14 Qualifying (Part 2)||Sun 11:25-11:35||Race 14 Qualifying (Part 3)||Sun 11:40-11:50|
|Race 14 (67 laps)||Sun 13:45-15:30|
Session times quoted in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC/GMT + 10:00)
Rewind to 2018
Carrying on his stellar qualifying form from 2017 and the start of 2018, Scott McLaughlin secured pole position for both of the weekend’s races, though DJR Team Penske teammate Fabian Coulthard started beside him across the two days.
Opening lap contact in the first race of the weekend saw the then-rookies Jack Le Brocq (TEKNO Autosport) and Richie Stanaway (Tickford Racing) spin, followed by Todd Hazelwood (Matt Stone Racing) who was tagged by David Reynolds’ Erebus Holden. It was a tough day for the Erebus boys with Reynolds’ team-mate Anton de Pasquale pushed off the road a few laps later by James Courtney (WAU Holden).
McLaughlin stretched out a lead through the race and looked to be in a comfortable position to win when a late-race Safety Car was deployed thanks to Tim Blanchard bogging his Brad Jones-run Holden in the sand trap, courtesy of contact with Simona de Silvestro’s Nissan.
On cold tyres after the restart, McLaughlin was swamped, relegating the lead to Rick Kelly and losing further spots to Scott Pye, Shane van Gisbergen and Coulthard. His first to fifth venture couldn’t be recovered as Kelly led the final laps.
Breaking through for his first win since 2011, Kelly took the chequered flag after his late-race charge, giving Nissan their first victory in two years. Embarrassingly, this happened on the very week that the marque announced it would be pulling funding for 2019.
Sunday started nearly as poorly as Saturday ended for McLaughlin when he bogged down off the line, losing the lead to Coulthard in a matter of metres. Nissan duo Kelly and Michael Caruso and Tickford’s Chaz Mostert all got past the pole man who had to fight his way up the order through the race.
Coulthard enjoyed a healthy lead throughout the race, not putting a foot wrong as McLaughlin moved up into second in the latter stages though came under attack from a fresh Dunlop-shod van Gisbergen.
The Kiwi-versus-Kiwi battle for second was resolved when McLaughlin couldn’t fight anymore, having to relinquish the position to the Triple Eight driver as Coulthard took the win for DJR Team Penske out front.
The Form Guide
Season 2019 has been a crusade for the Blue Oval with Ford’s new Mustang taking 11 out of 12 wins so far this year. Despite numerous attempts from the Supercars technical team to hobble the car with changes to its ballast and aerodynamics, the pony car has run strong so far this year.
Scott McLaughlin is undoubtedly the man to beat this year, taking eight wins this season, just one shy of his efforts last year en route to a maiden Drivers’ Championship title. His qualifying form has been on the next level from anyone else in the field for years, especially since joining DJR Team Penske in 2017 where he has notched up over 30 first place starts. It’ll be hard to beat the defending champ at Winton if he carries on his form of the year so far.
The closest contender to mounting a challenge at McLaughlin this year comes from inside his own team with Fabian Coulthard currently sitting second on the points table. Taking only one win last season, Coulthard won two races on the trot in Phillip Island and Perth this year to re-establish himself as one of the strongest drivers in the field. Although the gap to first may look big, fortunes can turn around quickly in this sport and a few strong results could well and truly put him in the hunt for the title come November.
Perhaps the driver who really needs to make a mark now is David Reynolds, currently sitting fourth in the standings but so far winless in 2019. Despite taking the final win of the year last year in Newcastle and showing that Erebus had the ability to take it to the likes of DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight, Reynolds has only one podium to his name this year and has been more reliant on consistency than outright speed.
Finally, two teams who really need to get their act together and fast. Walkinshaw Andretti United has had a nearly unacceptable year for the position of the team; a few seasons ago they were the factory Holden outfit and now their drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye sit 14th and 18th in the championship respectively.
Garry Rogers Motorsport is similarly suffering a fall from grace with James Golding and Richie Stanaway, positioned 19th and 21st in the standings despite being arguably two of the most important young talents on the grid.
At this stage of the season, Winton will prove itself to be a key round for those who need to turn their luck around and the few who are looking to succeed this year.
Images via LAT, Nissan Motorsport, WMR