The Sunshine State provided another round of unexpected twists and turns for the Supercars Championship as the season draws ever closer to the end.
Surfers Paradise played host to Australia’s premier tin-top category again and reminded us that nothing is certain until the weekend is over as five top drivers missed out on seeing the chequered flag at Sunday’s end.
After a hard-fought battle of Bathurst, everyone came to arguably the hardest circuit on the calendar to either find redemption or glory; some were unable to find either after 600 kilometres of racing around the Gold Coast streets.
Here’s who we think were the winners and losers from the penultimate round of the Pirtek Enduro Cup:
Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander
Wind the clock back 12 months and many people would have been surprised if you’d suggested that these two Supercars Champions would be driving together in 2019, let alone winning races. With a big off-season shake-up, that’s exactly how it played out and after missing out on a victory in the Bathurst 1000 by the slimmest of margins, the dynamic duo were out to go one better at the Gold Coast.
An alternate strategy in Saturday’s opening race arguably put them in with the best chance to win as van Gisbergen hunted down Scott McLaughlin for second and teammate Jamie Whincup for the win, ultimately having to stay behind the #888 car to mitigate risk and maximise points in the Teams’ Championship.
Sunday was to reward them; pole for van Gisbergen in the Top-10 Shootout, a strong and clean opening stint from Tander followed by a consistent drive from the Kiwi at the end of the race meant the #97 came home in first for the fourth time in 2019. The victory also broke a dry spell for Tander who had gone without standing atop the podium in Supercars since the 2016 Sandown 500; coming home in front of van Gisbergen on that day when they were fierce rivals. With a win now under their belts and two second place finishes together, van Gisbergen and Tander now lead the Enduro Cup by 36 points going into the final leg at Sandown Raceway.
Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes
The script may have been written for Bathurst but there weren’t many people who would be upset at the two most successful drivers in Supercars Championship history teaming up again to wind back the clock and add a win to their already impressive tallies at the Gold Coast.
Coming in to the endurance races for the first time together since 2009 and last recording a win with each other in 2008 at the Bathurst 1000, Whincup and Lowndes had all eyes on them to perform at Surfers Paradise; a track that rewards commitment, consistency and speed.
Lowndes put them in the box seat with one of the best co-driver stints in years to open Saturday’s race, giving the car over to Whincup with a controlling lead for the seven-time champion to close the race out with. A momentous victory together moves their win records to 115 and 108 races respectively; over one-fifth of all Supercars races have been won by these two alone.
Playing the team game on Sunday and holding station behind the #97 to close the race, the reverse of Saturday’s decision, a second place finish still gave Triple Eight a second consecutive one-two finish. Capitalising on the woes of DJR Team Penske, Triple Eight is now only 132 points behind the leading team with two rounds to go and everything to play for in the team’s title race, going in to Sandown with confidence in the “dream team” pairings.
Scott Pye and Warren Luff
Our third spot on the ‘Winners’ podium was a hard one to pick, not because there was anything wrong with the performance of the Walkinshaw Andretti Drivers but because the combination of Cameron Waters and Michael Caruso ran with them all weekend on an alternate strategy in the Tickford Racing #6 car.
For whatever reason, the WAU cars always come alive in the endurance races, especially around street tracks like the Gold Coast. After suffering a torrid year so far, the fact that Pye and Luff were able to get up to fifth in the opening race spoke volumes for how hard they had to push to be a part of the action up front.
Sunday was better still, missing out on a podium but improving on their Saturday finish to come home in fourth, putting in a clean but tough race to end up well ahead of teammates James Courtney and Jack Perkins.
It’s a tough time for WAU; losing title sponsor MEGA Fuels, going into next season without Courtney and with question marks as well over Pye’s future with the team. If they can use results like this weekend’s as any motivation, plus some money from American owners Michael Andretti and Zak Brown, they could find themselves at the sharp end of the field once again in 2020.
Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat
It’s not often that a pole-sitter and the current championship leader end up in the ‘Losers’ column but for those who saw or heard about car #17’s Sunday, you can understand why.
Coming off the back of the biggest of highs, winning the Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin and Prémat had confidence in abundance heading in to the Gold Coast. While the #17 Mustang wasn’t the quickest or most stable car in Friday practice, another McLaughlin masterclass in the Top-10 Shootout ensured pole position for the Enduro Cup leaders. Prémat found it hard to get the DJR Team Penske car off the line to start Saturday’s race but kept with Lowndes through the opening stint, giving the car over to McLaughlin straight but with no kerb strikes remaining for the rest of the race. McLaughlin chose not to fight against the hard-charging van Gisbergen, ultimately settling for third place in the opening account of the weekend.
Sunday looked like it was on track for another good start as McLaughlin held provisional pole in the final laps of qualifying, only to have one of the biggest shunts of the year when he ricocheted the #17 car off the inside wall at the first chicane, hitting the outside concrete wall and rolling on its side. The Kiwi emerged unscathed, however the Bathurst winning chassis is a write-off; it’s the second Bathurst winning chassis DJR has had to scrap after the 1994 Falcon EB of Dick Johnson and John Bowe was junked following a crash for the Tasmanian at Phillip Island in 1996.
While the 18-race winning chassis has gone to race car heaven, McLaughlin still retains a 463-point championship lead going in to Sandown with the defending champion only needing to come out 300 points ahead of van Gisbergen to secure the title before the final round in Newcastle.
Chaz Mostert and James Moffat
The Gold Coast was the scene of two victories over the last two years for Mostert who had gone through a tough period leading up to the street race; having been involved in incidents with team-mate Cam Waters across the last two rounds, including a race-ending crash at Bathurst.
He and Moffat won the Saturday race around the Surfers Paradise streets in 2018 and had confidence going into the weekend, boosted by Mostert taking provisional pole ahead of the Saturday race. In the Top-10 Shootout, he was chasing the lap set by McLaughlin after going down in the first sector before a mistake at Turn 11 ended it all.
Mostert clipped the inside wall and shot across the track into the outside barrier, narrowly missing the tyre bundle and causing major damage to the Tickford Racing car. Once back in the garage, the team’s worst fears were confirmed as the crash had caused substantial damage to the car’s chassis, writing it off and scratching the #55 from the weekend before turning a racing lap.
Even though Moffat has proved himself as a consistent co-driver, Mostert is busy fighting his own demons after having a mix of unnecessary crashes over the past 24 months, making sure the Tickford team won’t be sad to see him leave when he makes the inevitable departure to WAU next season after being with the Ford team since 2011.
Jack Le Brocq and Jonothan Webb
The performance of the Tekno Autosports #19 car may have been above average compared to the rest of the season this weekend, however the off-track antics of the two drivers leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s been no secret this year that the marriage between Le Brocq and Webb has been an unhappy one, despite the former punching well above his weight last season. Webb tried to kick Le Brocq out of his team as early as the Phillip Island round, claiming that he hasn’t been performing up to standard despite a reluctance for the team to upgrade the ex-Triple Eight car.
Things reached boiling point at the Gold Coast as team owner Webb, the car’s co-driver, chose to qualify it for both races, claiming that the car was going to be last anyway so he may as well drive it being the owner. Somehow they stitched together two 13th place finishes across the weekend, possibly showing that intense relationships can still produce good results. However, with Le Brocq nearly certainly going to Tickford Racing next year and Webb’s operation moving down to Sydney as well as expanding to two cars, it won’t be a particularly emotional goodbye for either at the end of season 2019.
Garry Rogers Motorsport and Richie Stanaway
After a hard year for the Kiwi who missed out on a few races mid-season thanks to an old back injury flaring up, the #33 driver was sidelined for missing a signing session on Sunday morning.
Was it due to that or the fact that Rogers didn’t want the driver who Boost Mobile had brought to the table in the car, given the title sponsor has effectively forced the team to leave Supercars? Time will tell. Will Stanaway be back in a Supercar this year or ever again? There’s no doubt that Stanaway is an untapped talent, but his brilliance as a co-driver has not followed that transition to full-time duties, while his off-track attitude and on-track manners have riled pretty much everyone on the grid.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.
Closing off the Enduro Cup next time out will be the Sandown 500. Although traditionally held as the first endurance race at the end of September, the retro round is still one to watch this year as van Gisbergen/Tander and Whincup/Lowndes fight for the title of endurance kings while McLaughlin has the chance (again) to win his second title.
The Sandown 500 will run on 8-10 November.
Image via Garry Rogers Motorsport, News.com.au, Red Bull Content Pool, Walkinshaw Andretti United