Another year, another visit to Ipswich and another great race at the Paperclip showed just why Supercars is still regarded as one of the best racing categories in this country right now.
Returning again to Queensland Raceway, many teams were buoyed by recent testing at the home track for the northerners, looking to take advantage of extra knowledge of minor changes to the venue.
At the end of the day, the results were based on who could get their cars to work in the warm conditions across the two races which well and truly shook the order up from what may have been predicted.
The championship leader bounced back from a tricky ending to his Townsville campaign at DJR Team Penske’s home track, emerging from Queensland Raceway as the round winner and further extending his points lead. Pole position in both races (resetting the lap record) and a hard fought victory in Sunday’s 200-kilometre thriller showed the defending champion isn’t backing down this year, putting in the maximum effort to finish on top.
A lack of car pace in Saturday’s opening race meant that fourth was the best he could manage but an all round better Ford Mustang on Sunday gave him pole and the race lead, fighting off the hard-charging Shane van Gisbergen in the closing laps. With teammate Fabian Coulthard struggling over the weekend, McLaughlin now enjoys a 433-point lead in the championship and with 12 wins is threatening Craig Lowndes’ record of 16 in one season, set back in 1996.
The seven-time series champion silenced his critics for his 2019 campaign by finally breaking through for his first win of the season, bouncing back from a DNF in Race 18 for victory in Ipswich. The Red Bull Holden Racing Team driver entered the round without a pole or victory in 2019, suffering along with his team this year with changes from a twin-spring suspension setup to linear springs. A front row start put him in prime territory to challenge for the lead and an aggressive start meant he took it on the opening lap, showing vintage form throughout the race to check out from the pack, building an insurmountable lead.
Sunday was a quieter affair, struggling to keep up with the leaders after starting third to manage fourth by the end of the race. While he is out of the championship race, a resurgence in form heading in to the endurance season could see the Whincup and Lowndes dream team pairing become a bigger threat come October.
Davison was on a large streak of finishing outside the top five heading in to the Ipswich round, not standing on the podium since Bathurst 2016 when he won the Great Race with Tekno Autosports. A solid few practice sessions and strong qualifying put the 23Red Racing driver in a good position to break his duck in the first race, getting up among McLaughlin and Whincup off the line and muscling his way into second place.
Although he had to fight past McLaughlin in the second stint and hold off team-mate Chaz Mostert, Davison held on to take second place at the race’s end, giving 23Red Racing their first podium in the Supercars Championship. Sunday saw Davison slip back, unable to match his pace from the day before and end up with fifth place. From here the next step is to get on top of the podium which will be a first since that famous Bathurst victory three years ago.
Supercars isn’t doing itself any favours this season by making some questionable decisions on all fronts which are leaving fans disillusioned with the product they are offering. After Sunday’s Race 20, $43,000 worth of fines were handed out to the top-three drivers and teams thanks to separate incidents that were unnoticed to fans.
McLaughlin was fined a total of $13,000 after the race; $3000 for doing burnouts after the approved area and a staggering $10,000 for taking a poster on the podium which celebrated Ford winning the Manufacturers’ title.
Triple Eight and Tickford Racing were both hit with $10,000 and $20,000 fines respectively for fuel rig issues throughout the race, also being docked 50 team points each. In a time where more and more people are becoming fed up with constant changes and penalties, Supercars has to start listening to their fan base if they don’t want them to start walking away from Australia’s premier motorsport category.
The crew may have avoided a spray in person from team principal Barry Ryan due to the boss being absent from Ipswich but there’s no doubt they will be getting one when they return to Melbourne. After getting a full and frank assessment from Ryan during the Townsville race weekend blighted by pit stop mishaps, it looked like everything was running smoothly on Sunday at QR until the closing laps of the race.
Somehow, the team had missed the minimum fuel drop in David Reynolds’ car by around a litre. This dropped him from a potential top-ten finish to well down in 21st; not ideal when you’re fighting for third in the championship. Over the weekend Anton de Pasquale got caught up in too many incidents and generally lacked pace over one lap, missing out on a top ten result either day. From a team which has won Bathurst recently and performed as the top Holden squad, these minor issues must be eradicated if they want to truly shake the “underdog” tag off their backs.
The New Zealander had what can only be described as a shocker of a weekend at his team’s home track, only just scraping through for one top-ten result as his teammate McLaughlin went to claim the round win.
Struggling for form over one lap, Coulthard could only manage P9 and P11 on the grid for the two races respectively, putting him in the mid-pack nonsense rather than out the front. A self-inflicted mistake in the first race saw him run off the road at Turn 3, dropping a handful of spots and just recovering to finish tenth by the end of the 39th lap.
Sunday was a harder affair, spinning off the road after locking a wheel into Turn 4, being spun by Anton de Pasquale and having to find a place in the pack. 18th was all that he could muster by the end, dropping almost a race worth of points to McLaughlin over the weekend and now coming within 87 points of Shane van Gisbergen behind him in the championship race. A resurgence in form for Coulthard was good to see earlier in the season but the Kiwi has to keep that up, especially when you share the same garage as the man who has now won 12 races in the season.
After escaping to the north over winter, the series next goes south to The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia. It was a happy hunting ground for Triple Eight last year, sweeping the first Supercars races at the venue.
Image via Supercars