The Bathurst 1000 was another thriller with runaway Supercars Championship leader Scott McLaughlin and co-driver Alexandre Prémat finally breaking through to claim their first victory at Mount Panorama.
The DJR Team Penske driver held out Red Bull Holden Racing Team rival Shane van Gisbergen (co-driving with Garth Tander) in a one-lap dash to the chequered flag following a late Safety Car interruption. James Courtney and and a flu-ridden Jack Perkins completed the podium in a shock result for the underperforming Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden team.
It was perhaps fitting that the result of a dramatic six-and-a-half-hour marathon race would be determined by a final sprint to the finish. As the Safety Car peeled off the circuit for the eighth and final time, just one of the race’s 161 laps were left, setting up a nail-biting finish.
After qualifying on pole position with the fastest ever lap of the circuit in Saturday’s Top-10 Shootout, McLaughlin and Prémat had held sway for much of the race. As is so often the case, it would come down to the timing of the final pit stop and being able to keep enough fuel in the tank to make it home.
The race pace was frenetic and with almost half the field breaking last year’s race lap record it was clearly going to be a test of fuel consumption. The longest stint any driver combination could manage was 24 laps, and when the Safety Car was called into action for the sixth (and what many presumed to be the final) time, they were left with too many laps to go and not enough fuel to run.
Of course, it would not be the Bathurst 1000 without a degree of controversy, and it came by virtue of a contentious team orders call by DJR Team Penske who ordered McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard – then running third on the road – to slow down heavily as a Safety Car was called into action with 26 laps to go. That left van Gisbergen’s teammate Jamie Whincup and McLaughlin with a clear run to the pits for fresh tyres and fuel, effectively eliminating the likes of van Gisbergen – who stood to benefit from a much shorter final fuel stop – from contention.
Coulthard was handed a pit lane drive-through penalty for failing to maintain a reasonable distance to the cars ahead of him under full-course yellow flags, while retired Supercars legend Larry Perkins was among many to describe the cynical tactic as “disgraceful”.
The timing of both Whincup and McLaughlin’s pit stops, however, still meant neither had enough fuel to get to the finish line without stopping again
The runners on the lead lap were faced with the difficult choice of staying out on track and praying for another Safety Car interruption to give them a breather to get home, or sacrifice track position and grab some fuel later on.
Whincup had famously lost victory in 2014 on the last lap when he ran out of fuel and his team were not about to repeat history. When the green flags were waved, he set about building a lead to minimise the time he would lose when he had to pit.
McLaughlin opted for the opposite tactic, desperately conserving fuel in the hope he would inherit the lead and a long-awaited maiden victory. By lifting and coasting wherever he could, he managed to save precious gulps of fuel but it still looked doubtful he would have enough in the tank.
Whincup had built an 11.5-second lead by the time he made his final splash-and-dash stop, handing the lead to McLaughlin who was just managing to keep the chasing van Gisbergen and Courtney at bay.
His blessing came when Andre Heimgartner crashed out of fifth place at Forrest Elbow with a handful of laps to go. Out came the Safety Car once again and with it the reprieve that the fuel-saving McLaughlin desperately needed.
The would be left with one green flag lap to race to the finish. McLaughlin got the jump at the restart and drove one of the laps of his life to hold out van Gisbergen by just 0.6 seconds.
The final results remain provisional, with Supercars summoning DJR Team Penske’s leadership to an extraordinary hearing to explain their breach of the ban on team orders. McLaughlin is unlikely to be stripped of his win – a fine and points penalty will be the slap on the wrist the team will probably be the sanction – but it again raises the broader discussion of how the series’ rulemakers can better govern Safety Car interruptions which have sadly too often been a controversial feature in deciding races this year.
Post-race there were plenty of ‘what might have been’ stories. The biggest was perhaps in a very frosty Tickford Racing garage, where Chaz Mostert once again managed to wipe out the sister entry driven by teammate Cameron Waters. The pair came to grief under braking for The Chase, with both cars beached in the gravel much to the fury of team boss Tim Edwards.
Mostert – widely tipped to be taking James Courtney’s soon-to-be-vacated seat at Walkinshaw Andretti United – was rightly hit with a drive-through penalty once he was pulled from the kitty litter, while Waters was the final classified finisher in 21st.
|2019 Australian Supercars Championship SuperCheap Auto Bathurst 1000 – Race 25 Final Classification (161 laps)|
|Pos||Driver / Co-Driver||Team||Result|
|1.||Scott McLaughlin / Alexandre Prémat||Shell V-Power Racing Team||6:27:51.526|
|2.||Shane van Gisbergen / Garth Tander||Red Bull Holden Racing||+ 0.680|
|3.||James Courtney / Jack Perkins||Mobil 1 Racing||+ 1.877|
|4.||Jamie Whincup / Craig Lowndes||Red Bull Holden Racing||+ 2.670|
|5.||David Reynolds / Luke Youlden||Penrite Racing||+ 3.643|
|6.||Fabian Coulthard / Tony D’Alberto||Shell V-Power Racing Team||+ 4.087|
|7.||Mark Winterbottom / Steven Richards||Irwin Racing||+ 5.623|
|8.||Scott Pye / Warren Luff||Mobil 1 Racing||+ 6.609|
|9.||Rick Kelly / Dale Wood||Castrol Racing||+ 6.673|
|10.||Lee Holdsworth / Thomas Randle||The Bottle-O Racing||+ 6.984|
|11.||Will Davison / Alex Davison||Milwaukee Racing||+ 7.703|
|12.||James Golding / Richard Muscat||Boost Mobile Racing||+ 7.856|
|13.||Richie Stanaway / Chris Pither||Boost Mobile Racing||+ 11.262|
|14.||Simona de Silvestro / Alex Rullo||Team Harvey Norman||1 lap behind|
|15.||Nick Percat / Tim Blanchard||7-Eleven Mobil Racing||1 lap behind|
|16.||Chaz Mostert / James Moffat||Supercheap Auto Racing||1 lap behind|
|17.||Macauley Jones / Dean Canto||Team CoolDrive||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jack Le Brocq / Jonathon Webb||Truck Assist TEKNO Racing||1 lap behind|
|19.||Alexander Rossi / James Hinchcliffe||NAPA Auto Parts Racing||2 laps behind|
|20.||Garry Jacobson / Dean Fiore||RABBLE.club Racing||2 laps behind|
|21.||Cameron Waters / Michael Caruso||Monster Energy Racing||13 laps behind|
|DNF.||Andre Heimgartner / Bryce Fullwood||Plus Fitness Racing||Accident|
|DNF.||Anton de Pasquale / Will Brown||Penrite Racing||Accident|
|DNF.||Brodie Kostecki / Jake Kostecki||Team Arcoweld Racing||Accident|
|DNF.||Todd Hazelwood / Jack Smith||Bigmate Racing||Accident|
|DNF.||Tim Slade / Ashley Walsh||Freightliner Alliance Racing||Accident|
- Nick Percat / Tim Blanchard – provisionally classified P14 – were issued a 31-second post-race time penalty (equivalent to a drive-through penalty) for a breach of Safety Car procedures at the final restart.
- Jack Le Brocq / Jonathon Webb – provisionally classified P18 – were issued a 31-second post-race time penalty (equivalent to a drive-through penalty) for a breach of Safety Car procedures at the final restart.
Image via DJR Team Penske