Another South Australian visit for the Supercars Championship delivered a round of highs and lows for the field as they returned to The Bend Motorsport Park for a second time.
Coming back to Australia’s newest permanent race track after it made its debut on the Supercars calendar last year, there were some up and down the pit lane who showed they’d done their homework over the past 12 months while some were left behind, scratching their heads after 320 kilometres of racing.
As the final hit-out for teams in Australia before the all-important run home to Newcastle begins, The Bend provided a great snapshot of the season and an idea of how the year will pan out.
The defending champion has well and truly stamped his authority on this year’s Supercars season after clean sweeping The Bend a year on from his worst round of the year en route to a maiden championship.
The current championship leader had to work for the win in both races over the weekend but was rewarded with 300 points across the 320 kilometres of racing. Two front-row starts – including a 14th pole position for the year – propelled him to equal a 23-year-old record, matching Craig Lowndes’ 1996 feat of 16 wins in a season. With a 573-point advantage in the championship and two races in front of his home crowd in New Zealand coming up next, it’s hard to see how McLaughlin could miss out on eclipsing Lowndes’ record and defend his title in near perfect fashion.
Mostert put himself forward as the best of the rest this season after being one of a select few who took the fight to McLaughlin over the weekend in South Australia.
A surprise pole position for Saturday’s race put the Tickford Racing driver in with a reasonable shot of victory but he had to settle for second as the red Mustang disappeared into the distance.
Starting third in Sunday’s race, Mostert had to fight Jamie Whincup to get his podium spot back, eventually ending up on top and making a second appearance on the dais for the round. With consistency on his side, Mostert has now moved into second in the Drivers’ Championship standings, sandwiching himself between the DJR Team Penske cars and making a case to teams up and down the pit lane as to why his signature is one of the most valuable in this silly season.
Anton de Pasquale
Recently re-signed by Erebus, the youngster is making his case for being one of the stars of the future in Supercars after making another podium appearance and out-performing his key rivals at The Bend. The young gun was able to qualify fourth for the opening 120-kilometre race of the weekend and converted well off the line, driving a lonely but rewarding race to third and claim his second career podium while his more experienced teammate David Reynolds could only muster seventh.
He started and finished seventh in Sunday’s race, keeping it clean and collecting valuable points that have moved him up to tenth in the championship standings. De Pasquale has well and truly shown that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future of Supercars.
The four-car outfit copped its fair share of the naughty stick from the stewards over the weekend after all bar one of their drivers was involved in incidents across the two races. In a round where their underperforming Nissan Altima racers were awarded an aero upgrade by Supercars, the Melbourne based team struggled to make use of it to the full potential.
Andre Heimgartner was able to post the team’s best result of the round with a fifth place on Saturday but his teammates Garry Jacobson and Rick Kelly finished outside the top 20 while Simona de Silvestro was a retiree on the opening lap after her best qualifying performance of the season.
Sunday saw both Heimgartner and de Silverstro hit with penalties while Kelly and Jacobson managed 11th and 19th respectively. As the tenure of the Altima reaches its nearly inevitable end, the Kelly brothers have to work out what path they’ll be going down and who they take with them next season if they’re not going to homologate a new car.
The New Zealander slipped down the order from a comfortable second place in the Supercars Championship standings after an unexciting couple of races in South Australia. The DJR Team Penske driver failed to record a top-ten finish in either race, finishing well down the order compared to teammate McLaughlin who won in both outings.
From qualifying seventh on Saturday, Coulthard ended up in 12th at the finish after getting caught up in incidents early on. Not making it out of Qualifying 2 didn’t help the Kiwi’s efforts on Sunday, starting 12th on the grid. He only managed to gain one spot over the 200-kilometre race, finishing just outside of the top ten in eleventh. At a time where his teammate is dominating the year, Coulthard’s inconsistent results means he has now lost second place in the Drivers’ Championship standings to Mostert as the season comes to a close.
Jack Le Brocq
The 27-year-old has had a tough time in his sophomore Supercars season and is at risk of losing his seat if an improvement in form isn’t found soon. Although he was able to notch up a top five last year, good results have been few and far between in 2019. This was demonstrated by two races at The Bend where he finished second-last of the drivers who hadn’t been taken out of the race.
Starting 24th for Race 1, a finish result of 21st only came through three cars not finishing and one being penalised, only crossing the line ahead of wildcard Jack Smith and Rick Kelly who had served a drive-through penalty. Starting in the same spot on Sunday, Le Brocq lost a spot during the race to come home second-last, again only ahead of Smith but behind the other wildcard of Thomas Randle in both races. With time running out to prove his worth, the Tekno driver has to step up and drag his Triple Eight built car out of the doldrums and into a competitive position if he wants to remain a permanent fixture on the grid.
Heading overseas for the only non-Australian round of the year, the Supercars Championship goes to Pukekohe Park in New Zealand, home of the Kiwis who have been dominating our championship of late. Now being held in September as opposed to its more recent spot in November, the Auckland venue will be the final race before the season of endurance kicks off in October at the Bathurst 1000.
Images via DJR Team Penske, Penrite Racing, Supercars, TEKNO Autosports, Tickford Racing