A faultless opening stint from Craig Lowndes has netted the Red Bull Holden Racing Team a 1-2 finish in the opening Vodafone Gold Coast 600 race at Surfers Paradise.
The win marks a record nine victories for Jamie Whincup on the Gold Coast and the pair’s first triumph as co-drivers since Bathurst in 2008.
With the majority of the field opting for co-drivers to open the race, Lowndes lined up on the front row opposite the pole-sitting DJR Team Penske Mustang and launched off the line to snatch the critical lead from Alexandre Prémat (co-driver to championship leader Scott McLaughlin) into the first chicane.
A chaotic start saw several drivers straight-line the first corner with the sister DJR Team Penske Mustang getting caught up in the push and shove, forcing Tony D’Alberto to run wide to stay out of the wall.
While Lowndes settled into a rhythm, Prémat was pushing hard to stay with the seven-time Bathurst winner but earned himself a bad sportsmanship flag for kerb overuse midway through his stint.
A cool-headed Lowndes continued to extend his margin, handing over the #888 ZB Commodore to Whincup with a five-second advantage at the end of his compulsory number of laps.
However, the margin came under attack when Scott McLaughlin took over from Prémat, stringing together some quick laps early in his stint.
Lap 58 saw Whincup pick up a warning for overuse of kerbs before McLaughlin headed to the pits for new tyres in an undercut attempt to eat into Whincup’s comfortable seven-second lead.
McLaughlin’s new boots saw him lock the loaded front tyre at Turn 4 on his out-lap, sparking fears of tyre damage, but when seven-time champion Whincup pitted a lap later McLaughlin had managed to close the gap to within three seconds at the start of the final stint.
But the strategy of the sister #97 Red Bull Holden was yet to play out with the Red Bull Holden team opting to keep Shane van Gisbergen out until Lap 76, emerging 5.5 seconds down on the Shell V-Power star.
Van Gisbergen’s fresh rubber pace closed in on McLaughlin by Lap 88, drawing alongside him onto the pit straight then cruising past to grab second.
Just seconds after, the first and only Safety Car of the day was called to clear the debris after Garry Jacobson’s Kelly Racing Nissan Altima’s muffler fell off and was ran over by the BJR Holden of Nick Percat – shredding his front right tyre -forcing him to pit and drop out of the top ten.
Safety Car conditions set up a nail-biting end to the race and a battle of the Red Bull’s with van Gisbergen possessing a 14-lap tyre advantage over his teammate.
When the race restarted on Lap 93, a hard-charging van Gisbergen kept Whincup honest, pushing his teammate to extend their lead over third-placed McLaughlin. The New Zealander was himself preoccupied by the speedy Cameron Waters/Michael Caruso Tickford Racing Mustang ahead of the Scott Pye/Warren Luff Walkinshaw Andretti United entry.
Lee Holdsworth was an excellent sixth alongside impressive young co-driver Thomas Randle (Tickford Racing), followed by their sister entry steered by Will Davison/Alex Davison (Milwaukee Racing), Tim Slade/Ash Walsh, (BJR Holden), Fabian Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto (DJR Team Penske) and Rick Kelly/Dale Wood (Kelly Racing Nissan) rounding out the top ten.
Race teams held their breath in Lap 98 after Kelly Racing’s Andre Heimgartner made contact with James Courtney (Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden) sending the Nissan Altima into the concrete barrier. Heimgartner managed to return his badly damaged car to pit lane while the race remained under green flag conditions, but Courtney was slapped with a drive-through penalty, relegating him and co-driver Jack Perkins to a twelfth place finish.
Meanwhile, Van Gisbergen stayed in P2 under team orders seeing Whincup claim the chequered flag for a Red Bull Holden 1-2 and much needed redemption for the #888 driver after his Bathurst heartbreak.
Scott McLaughlin crossed the line in P3 firming up his chances of sealing the championship on Sunday.
“CL did an amazing job to get us into the lead of the race, with a nice buffer,” race-winner Whincup said.
“I thought we were in a little bit of trouble there with that late Safety Car, but the car was good, we had pace, I couldn’t be happier.”
Lowndes added: “The car was great, it was consistent, I ran to a number… Alex sort of put a bit of pressure early on and then we sort of seesawed a bit.
“In the end, we were able to drive away from him and get Jamie a five-second lead. Credit to the team, to have both cars 1-2 is really a credit to everyone.”
With Tickford Racing’s Chaz Mostert withdrawn from the weekend after writing off his car with a huge accident in the Top-1o Shootout, McLaughlin and van Gisbergen are the sole drivers capable of claiming the Drivers’ Championship title. McLaughlin holds a 613-point lead over van Gisbergen and with 750 points up for grabs until the end of the season he can claim back-to-back titles on Sunday provided he drops no more than 13 points to his rival.
The Supercars are back on track on the Surfers Paradise Street Circuit for Armor All Qualifying for Race 27, tomorrow at 09:55 local time (GMT +10).
|2019 Australian Supercars Championship Vodafone Gold Coast 600 – Race 26 Final Classification (102 laps)|
|Pos||Driver / Co-Driver||Team||Result|
|1.||Jamie Whincup / Craig Lowndes||Red Bull Holden Racing||2:06.57.947|
|2.||Shane van Gisbergen / Garth Tander||Red Bull Holden Racing||+ 0.521|
|3.||Scott McLaughlin / Alexandre Prémat||Shell V-Power Racing Team||+ 2.691|
|4.||Cameron Waters / Michael Caruso||Monster Energy Racing||+ 3.344|
|5.||Scott Pye / Warren Luff||Mobil 1 Racing||+ 4.890|
|6.||Lee Holdsworth / Thomas Randle||The Bottle-O Racing||+ 7.666|
|7.||Will Davison / Alex Davison||Milwaukee Racing||+ 13.516|
|8.||Tim Slade / Ashley Walsh||Freightliner Alliance Racing||+ 13.896|
|9.||Fabian Coulthard / Tony D’Alberto||Shell V-Power Racing Team||+ 20.262|
|10.||Rick Kelly / Dale Wood||Castrol Racing||+ 20.944|
|11.||Anton de Pasquale / Will Brown||Penrite Racing||+ 23.835|
|12.||James Courtney / Jack Perkins||Mobil 1 Racing||+ 40.211|
|13.||Jack Le Brocq / Jonathon Webb||Truck Assist TEKNO Racing||1 lap behind|
|14.||Nick Percat / Tim Blanchard||7-Eleven Mobil Racing||1 lap behind|
|15.||Garry Jacobson / Dean Fiore||RABBLE.club Racing||1 lap behind|
|16.||James Golding / Richard Muscat||Boost Mobile Racing||1 lap behind|
|17.||Macauley Jones / Dean Canto||Team CoolDrive||2 laps behind|
|18.||Brodie Kostecki / Jake Kostecki||Team Arcoweld Racing||2 laps behind|
|19.||Mark Winterbottom / Steven Richards||Irwin Racing||2 laps behind|
|20.||Todd Hazelwood / Jack Smith||Bigmate Racing||2 laps behind|
|21.||Simona de Silvestro / Alex Rullo||Team Harvey Norman||2 laps behind|
|22.||David Reynolds / Luke Youlden||Penrite Racing||2 laps behind|
|23.||Richie Stanaway / Chris Pither||Boost Mobile Racing||3 laps behind|
|DNF.||Andre Heimgartner / Bryce Fullwood||Plus Fitness Racing||Accident|
|DNS.||Chaz Mostert / James Moffat||Supercheap Auto Racing||Accident|
Image via Red Boll Holden Racing Team