The now traditional winter escape to the north of Australia provided one of the best weekends of racing this year with an action packed Townsville 400.
Held around the Reid Park circuit, this year saw something which had never happened since the Supercars field first hit the track in 2009: rain.
Despite being held in the tropics, the dry season has proved to be exactly that over the past ten years and while unexpected, the rain gave us one of the most action-packed races so far this season.
Though the weekend was about more than just the closing race, lessons can be learnt from how some of the best handled themselves when put under pressure.
1. Shane van Gisbergen emerges out of Townsville as the round winner after putting in a consistent if not unexciting showing up north. Qualifying fourth for the opening race, that’s where he finished but not before putting in a blinding final stint on much younger tyres than those around him, working his way up the order to take the spot away from Fabian Coulthard late in the race. Starting sixth for Sunday’s race, the wet weather conditions usually see “The Giz” shine but a full dry setup on his car meant he could defend but not attack. As his rivals fell by the wayside, van Gisbergen kept the #97 on the black stuff to lead the field home under safety car. A winner’s trophy and 270 points promoted him back up to third in the championship, coming out on top of the close battle for the podium battle.
2. Fabian Coulthard put in a good showing in a milestone weekend with the Kiwi notching up his 400th race start in Sunday’s outing. The DJR Team Penske pilot may not have set the world on fire when he qualified in 13th for the opening race but good race pace and strategy from his team meant he finished fifth at the end of the 200km battle, only just missing out on fourth in the last laps. Qualifying fifth on Sunday, Coulthard gave himself the best chance at a strong finish by staying out of trouble throughout the rain affected race, fighting for what could have been the race victory in the final stanza though he just fell short. With the news that he and defending champion team-mate Scott McLaughlin will be retained by the team next year, Coulthard can now focus on the racing and hopefully enjoy more success this year.
3. Chaz Mostert proved why he’s one of the most sought after drivers who is off contract at the end of the year after putting in two top five finishes over the weekend, securing his first podium in Far North Queensland in the process. It was a big Saturday for the Tickford driver, starting second and looking like he’d finish there until Jamie Whincup undercut him on strategy. A solid battle with Scott McLaughlin may have seen him come off second best but a safe drive to the chequered flag earned him his first podium at the Reid Park track. Sunday didn’t start as well when Mostert only managed 16th in qualifying but the wet weather played into his hands, driving up the field to be in contention for a podium until he was forced to pit for his mandatory fuel drop at the end. As questions surround Mostert’s future as to whether he stays in Supercars (and who with) or heads overseas to try his hand at GT ventures, strong weekends like that will put his stocks high within the paddock.
1. Brad Jones Racing had a tough weekend as they struggled for results all weekend, culminating in a horror Sunday which luckily saw multiple members of the team avoid injury. Nick Percat did the team’s heavy lifting on Saturday, starting 11th and finishing 8th to give the team their only top ten of the round as Tim Slade and Macaulay Jones could only manage 16th and 18th respectively. Sunday’s race saw all three drivers hit with penalties throughout the day; Jones was handed a drive-through for hitting and causing damage to Mark Winterbottom, Slade copped time for spinning Simona De Silvestro and Percat was punished for spoiling a good race with Cam Waters after he hit him off the road. Unfortunately Percat’s penalty was overshadowed by a large fire when he came in to his pit stop thanks to a leaking fuel hose. When the E85 fuel combined with a hot exhaust a massive fireball erupted outside the BJR garage and in Percat’s car as he drove away. The quick response from marshals and other teams to help showed the professionalism of the sport but has left BJR with more than a few headaches to resolve before heading to Ipswich.
2. Erebus Motorsport showed why they’re not yet regarded as one of the established teams in the field after a mixed bag of results over the Townsville round. While David Reynolds produced a great lap in Saturday qualifying to take his first pole of the season, it was tough to see a strong result evaporate with a bungled pit stop. What was much harder to watch was team boss Barry Ryan all but throwing his mechanics under the bus when interviewed after the incident; deciding to tell it like it is to the watching world instead of leaving it for the post race debrief. Both Reynolds and Anton de Pasquale did well to qualify inside the top ten for Sunday but Reynolds’ first lap clash, no matter where the fault sits, ruined any chances of a solid points haul. de Pasquale did a great job to lead a majority of the race, only undone by having to come in for a stop at the end of the race to complete his minimum fuel drop. Though there were two top ten results, the points haul could’ve been much larger for the team who are looking to establish themselves at the front of the pit lane.
3. Jamie Whincup may be the most successful driver in the history of Townsville’s Supercars rounds but this round just wasn’t to be for the seven-time champion. A big Saturday race saw Whincup make the undercut work well, moving from sixth place on the grid to second at the finish by being the only driver to get out in clear air, making good lap times while everyone else was caught in traffic. He had his work cut out on Sunday after qualifying in 12th, far from where the Triple Eight driver wanted to be and some 6 places down on team-mate van Gisbergen. Though he was fighting towards the front at the start of the race, Whincup was the unenviable pioneer to find out just how slippery the wet track was off line, dropping a tyre out onto the painted kerb and spinning the #88 into the fence. As the first DNF of the day, Whincup triggered a safety car which turned the race on its head while he had to watch from the sidelines. Winless so far this year, it’s hard to comprehend the most successful driver in the history of the sport struggling so much less than two years after taking his last championship but he’ll be wanting to put in a good showing at the team’s adopted home track of Queensland Raceway in the next round.
Next up, it’s the Ipswich SuperSprint, held at the track affectionately known as “The Paperclip”; Queensland Raceway. With only six turns, the track looks simple but is anything but with passing chances at nearly every corner which keeps the drivers on their toes. The action will happen only a few weeks away on July 24-26.
Image via Supercars