A late autumn round in country Victoria may sound like a quick way to hypothermia but the on-track action in this weekend’s round of the Supercars championship was hot enough to warm up all the trackside campers.
The month of May is always a great one for motorsports fans; the Indy 500, F1 at Monaco, VLN at the Nurburgring and Supercars at the Benalla-schleife (also known as Winton Motor Raceway).
While it was a clean sweep from Scott McLaughlin, there were some other notable performers and many drivers who missed the mark in the sixth round of the championship.
- Scott McLaughlin continued his near flawless start to season 2019 with a clean sweep of Winton, notching up his tenth win for the season and putting himself in the box seat to defend the championship. Saturday didn’t look like it was going to work out for the DJR Team Penske driver, missing out on pole and then going off the road at Turn 5 after contact with his team-mate Fabian Coulthard. Whether it was luck or intelligence, McLaughlin followed the rejoin rules to the letter of the law, allowing him to come back on track in third and fight at the front. A strong drive in front gave him his ninth win of the season, backed up by a solid Sunday where he topped every session, including resetting the lap record in qualifying, en route to a win in the 200km race. It’s been a great year for the 2018 champion, taking 10 wins from 14 races so far, one more victory than his tally from last year’s title winning season.
- David Reynolds was able to get himself back into the mix at Winton after falling behind in the last few rounds, taking his first ever podium at the country Victoria venue in the process. Starting on the second row for the opening race of the round, Reynolds quickly found himself in a fight for the lead as the two DJR Team Penske cars fired each other off the road, hunting down James Courtney in front. A half-assed move on the second lap saw Reynolds nudge Courtney off the circuit, earning himself a five second penalty at his first pit stop. Despite serving it, he still managed to come home third, the first of the Holden runners and he carried that form over to Sunday, locked in a strong battle with Jamie Whincup to eventually finish in fourth. While it’s disappointing that Reynolds isn’t in a fight for the championship this year after improving massively at Erebus in recent seasons, he’s engaged in a four-way fight for third, only 11 points off the championship podium.
- Jamie Whincup may not have had the most exciting round at Winton but consistency has always been the key for the seven-time series champion, gaining as many points as possible when the chips are stacked against him. Only just making the top ten for Saturday’s grid, an early stop gave Whincup clean air in his second stint, working his way up the order before his older tyre life put an end to the effort, relinquishing the position to team-mate Shane van Gisbergen and finishing sixth. A qualifying improvement on Sunday helped take him away from the mid-pack melee, fighting at the front after starting third on the grid. Despite pressure from Reynolds, he was able to hold the position to take the last step on the podium, an important result for Triple Eight in the team’s championship. While it’s unlikely Whincup will win an eighth title this year, he’s still looking for his first victory of the season and to his team’s efforts to get a good garage spot next year.
- Anton de Pasquale has been proving himself as a star of the future over the past two seasons but inconsistency has hampered the young driver, highlighted by poor finishes at Winton. Starting 13th for race one, de Pasquale was racing well until he was spun by Lee Holdsworth on lap 22, earning the Tickford driver a 15 second penalty while the Erebus car dropped down the order. Coming home in 18th, it was a less than ideal day for de Pasquale and things didn’t improve much on Sunday despite qualifying 6th. A solid start to the day was unravelled when he made contact with Rick Kelly at Turn 9, copping a 15 second penalty for his troubles which led the #99 car to free-fall down the standings. There’s no doubt that de Pasquale is fast but the occasional error and inconsistency is something he needs to work on if he wants to be a top contender soon.
- Tim Slade arrived at Winton hoping it would be a happy hunting ground for him again after the South Australian scored his first wins at the circuit back in 2016. As the home track for his Brad Jones Racing team, it should have been a high scoring round for everyone involved but they started the weekend off on the wrong foot which carried through to Sunday afternoon. Giving himself a hard job in race one by qualifying down in 19th, Slade drove up to 13th throughout the race, missing out on a top ten result for the local team. Sunday was much of the same story, qualifying 19th again for the 200km race and only going one better than the day before, ending the day in 12th. It was a less than ideal result for Slade who has been consistent this year, wanting to help BJR get among the bigger teams for a better garage spot next year.
- Richie Stanaway has had a hard 2019 as results have been few and far between for the accomplished Kiwi racer. After being saved by Garry Rogers Motorsport this year due to losing his drive at Tickford Racing as the result of poor performances, Stanaway has failed to fire this year and his form didn’t change at Winton. Before the round it was announced that he’s been suffering neck issues due to a crash at Spa-Francorchamps in his open-wheeler days and that injury wasn’t helped by a hefty shunt in Saturday practice, going into the tyre barrier after spinning on the wet track. Finishing last, Stanaway was withdrawn from Sunday’s running to further recover from the injury with the team’s 2018 Super2 title winning driver and current TCR Australia wheelman Chris Pither stepping in. Although it was a shame that Stanaway had to give up his seat for the day, Pither did well for the team, equaling Stanaway’s best finish of the season with 14th. Though he certainly has the credentials behind him, Stanaway needs to start performing, especially against team-mate James Golding, this year if he wants to seriously pursue a Supercars career.
Moving away from the cold in the south, the Supercars field will head north all the way to the Top End, featuring at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway for the next round of the championship. Notable for its agreeable temperatures and long front straight, the Northern Territory round gives drivers and teams a welcome reprieve from a harsh winter.
Image via Supercars