For the Supercars Championship, 2019 will be a year to be remembered, whether it be for the right or wrong reasons. A season of domination, underdog performances and off-track drama meant the run from the start of the year in March to its conclusion in November was full of breaking news stories, keeping the media circus alive.
Looking back on the year that was, we’re going to summarise the key points from 2019, reflecting on a record-breaking season which should be celebrated rather than forgotten.
Best Race: Bathurst 1000
Despite all the controversy which surrounded this year’s Great Race after the event concluded, the race itself was one for the books. Aside from the delayed start and a first lap Safety Car, for the first 100 odd laps to go Safety Car free set up one of the great strategy races which purist racing fans froth at the mouth for.
A flurry of late race safety cars spiced up the end of the 161-lap endurance classic, finally culminating in a one-lap dash to the flag in a first for the 1000. As a racing fan, there’s few races which stack up this year or in the last few years for having every element of what makes the sport great rolled into one day.
Best Driver: Scott McLaughlin
Well it wasn’t really going to be anyone else, was it? The past three years for McLaughlin have netted two championship titles and seen the young Kiwi go from strength to strength. There were questions about whether he would be able to defend his crown given the raft of changes coming in to 2019, mainly with the new Ford Mustang and the move to linear springs in the cars. Straight off the bat, he showed nothing would affect him, sweeping the opening round in Adelaide and the first four races overall. The only thing which stopped him taking all seven races to begin the season was a ‘Did Not Start’ against his name in Race 5 at Albert Park thanks to contact on the way to the grid with Cam Waters.
Of his record breaking 18 wins in the season, beating both the Supercars and Team Penske records of 16 in a season set by Craig Lowndes (1996) and Mark Donohue (1969) respectively, Bathurst would likely be the biggest or most important victory for McLaughlin as he and co-driver Alex Prémat kept the #17 in prime position for the victory all day. In terms of sprint races, few were better than McLaughlin’s drive under pressure from countryman Shane van Gisbergen in Ipswich, defending the Triple Eight driver in the dying laps to take the win.
The big question going into 2020 is can McLaughlin keep his position at the top of the pecking order? Next year’s cars will have less downforce which counts for overall lap time and might punish those who push the car too hard, much like McLaughlin does in his qualifying laps. As it looks likely that 2020 will be his last year in the category while a career in America looms, a three-peat of titles for DJR Team Penske would be a great parting gift for the Blue Oval fans.
Best Moment: Shane van Gisbergen, Gold Coast 600 Qualifying
In a season which will be remembered for far too many negative reasons, drivers showing emotion has been something we’ve seen this year more than others. Probably more than any other time came off the back of one of the year’s most terrifying moments.
When Scott McLaughlin had his monster shunt in qualifying for Sunday’s Gold Coast 600 race, it was his great rival van Gisbergen who stopped on the track to help extract the championship leader from the car.
While many kicked off online about how other cars, including McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard, kept driving past, van Gisbergen was the first to turn up on the scene with no one else around him so he wouldn’t be in danger himself.
While he later said he would have stopped for anyone in the same situation, Giz’s stocks went up on that day as he kept coming out of his semi-reclusive shell of years gone by to show his true heart as a sportsman. This and other instances throughout the year led to van Gisbergen being awarded the Barry Sheene Medal for 2019, reflecting his growing character and accessible personality throughout the season.
Biggest Talking Point/Biggest Controversy: Parity and Bathurst dramas
Ford’s introduction of the Mustang as their Supercars contender of choice certainly fed the fire in one of the biggest seasons off track as much as what was happening on it. Straight off the bat, taking the opening six wins of the year in the first two rounds, questions were asked around just how close the Mustang was to Holden’s Commodore and the Kelly Racing Nissan Altimas.
Continuous testing, re-testing and changes throughout the year led to a raft of changes for those running the Pony Car, being hit with ballast repositioning and aero tweaks. Never before in a Supercars season have we seen so many adjustments made to the cars by the governing body on the fly and the rigorous off-season testing ahead of 2020 will prove critical if Supercars wants to keep teams and fans onside. Their decision to rerun the VCAT tests again shows just how dedicated they are to getting everything 100% right in one of the sport’s most important seasons as the TCR Australia/Shannon’s Nationals product goes from strength to strength.
It would be rude and entirely stupid to talk about controversies and not bring up this year’s Bathurst 1000. In the space of 24 hours, DJR Team Penske went from the heroes, the challengers to the evil empire of Triple Eight, to the cheats who tainted the biggest race of the season. With Fabian Coulthard being instructed by his engineer to back up the pack under Safety Car conditions late in the race – not very well one must add. The incident gave McLaughlin a leg up in the back end of the race, leading him to take the win while Coulthard was later reclassified as the last of the finishers and DJR Team Penske was handed a record sanction.
To add salt to the wound, the engine which McLaughlin used to qualify on pole was deemed illegal, though not with intent, thanks to an extra bee’s dick of valve lift which would have done two-tenths of bugger all in the grand scheme of things. Coming out of the race weekend with no Teams’ Championship points and both of their drivers feeling rather disenchanted with the whole business, it’s going to take a lot for DJR Team Penske to wear off their reputation from their biggest critics in the sport.
Biggest Own Goal: Chaz Mostert x3
Mostert might be one of the fastest drivers in the category, but his reputation as being more than a little accident prone was cemented in the back half of 2019 as three incidents in as many races hurt Tickford Racing’s chance at a good position in the Teams’ Championship.
A late dive on teammate Cam Waters in Pukekohe took the #55 out of the race despite racing in a strong position near the front.
Things didn’t get much better at Bathurst; after fighting for the lead through the day and comfortably sitting in the top five, Mostert made a move on Waters at The Chase. It was too late, he locked up, they made contact and ended up effectively out of the race.
If this wasn’t the point at which Tickford were happy to see the back of Mostert as the announcement of his impending departure to Walkinshaw Andretti United loomed, Gold Coast would provide it instead. Rolling out as the last car in Saturday’s Top-10 Shootout, contact with the inside concrete wall heading into the last sector ricocheted the Mustang across the track and into the other wall which was even less soft than the first one. Chassis written off, weekend over before it began.
The final moment of the season came in the last race when, heading up Watt Street on approach to Turn 2 at the Newcastle street track, Mostert dived up the inside of Waters from as far back as Gosford, only just making the pass stick. Despite all this, Mostert is the only driver from a team which isn’t DJR Team Penske or Triple Eight to win in 2019; although his sole victory came in a race where McLaughlin didn’t start and could’ve easily won given Mostert started from seventh on the grid.
Biggest Shunt: Macauley Jones, Adelaide 500 Qualifying
The award no one wants to win but there’s always going to be a victor, young rookie Macauley Jones takes home the honours for the biggest crash of 2019, luckily getting it over and done with in the opening weekend of the year.
A brake failure on his Brad Jones Racing Commodore sent the #21 spearing into the wall at unabated speed around the Turn 9 hairpin. Showing the strength of the Car of the Future/Gen2 chassis, Macca walked away unharmed and lived to race at the back of the back for another day.
Biggest Surprise: DJR Team Penske / Triple Eight domination
As surprising as it is that all races bar one this year were won by the top two teams, it’s more of a shock that more teams weren’t able to get themselves in contention to fight at the front.
For all their talk about progress, Erebus Motorsport just didn’t fire in 2019, highlighted by the lack of a victory and a focus from David Reynolds to spend more time sledging on his (award-winning) podcast than winning trophies. Let’s see how all this comes across in next year’s Drive to Survive style series, produced by Supercars Media, on the Melbourne squad.
The same goes for Tickford Racing who had great speed to start the year with Cam Waters and Chaz Mostert but they just couldn’t bring it home, although a second and third place finish at the Sandown 500 for Mostert/James Moffat and Lee Holdsworth/Thomas Randle capped off the year strongly.
Limiting friendly fire and having someone like Waters step up to the plate as a team leader will put them in good stead for the future.
Biggest Disappointment: GRM Departure
It’s hard as a fan of the sport to not fly off the handle about this but the loss of Garry Rogers Motorsport in the Supercars fraternity is a massive failure for the category and could have been prevented by just about everyone involved.
Wind the clock back 12 months and GRM was going to enter this season with James Golding and former champion Garth Tander. Fast forward to the new year and Tander found himself without a drive thanks to new sponsor Boost Mobile, headed by former Australian Super Touring Championship manager Peter Adderton, and their driver of choice, the outspoken Richie Stanaway.
Two young blokes with only a year of Supercars experience each heading up a team with great expectations from a temperamental backer… you do the math.
As the season progressed, the writing was all but on the wall as results became harder and harder to achieve; only a cameo appearance from Michael Caruso to sub in for the injured Stanaway at Townsville looked to turn the team’s fortunes around. However, with Adderton giving GRM and Supercars an ultimatum at Bathurst that he’d back out of the category if control uprights weren’t implemented in 2020, GRM had next to no choice other than to leave the sport, choosing to not renew their Racing Entitlement Contracts.
In the space of 12 months, Adderton has nearly singlehandedly run GRM into the ground and cast the most popular team in the pit lane into the history books. While they’ll still run in TCR Australia with Renault and have a big presence within the S5000 category, Australian motorsport won’t be the same without GRM in the top tier of sport in the country.
Simona de Silvestro made a bigger impact in Supercars than what the record books will show. For a female to race in the hardest touring car category in the world after never having tin-top experience, fighting in a dog of a car around tracks she’d never seen, the Iron Maiden punched well above her weight over her time in the category. Stepping down as a full-time driver, she leaves behind a legacy of being an impeccable inspiration to young female drivers across the country, showing that they can compete in a sport which has been traditionally male dominated since the dawn of time.
Richie Stanaway not only says goodbye to Supercars but it also seems racing full stop. The former GP2 Series race winner notched up a Sandown 500 victory as co-driver to Cam Waters in 2017 before he stepped up as a full-time driver in Supercars, first for Tickford and then GRM. While results weren’t easy to come by, Stanaway’s polarising personality didn’t earn him many fans across his two seasons, ultimately wearing out the young Kiwi to the point of calling an end to his racing career. Hopefully this is not the end for him but perhaps a well-needed break and change of scenery will help him overcome the mental and physical afflictions which have plagued him in recent years.
With Supercars stepping up their testing process ahead of the move next year to lower downforce across the field, all in the search of better racing, plus some big changes over the grid, 2020 is gearing up to be on of the most important seasons in Supercars history.
The season begins at its traditional home, the Adelaide 500, held around the streets made famous by the Australian Grand Prix from 1985-1995. Scott McLaughlin is the reigning champion after clean-sweeping the round in 2019.
Images via DJR Team Penske, Erebus Motorsport, Garry Rogers Motorsport, Kelly Racing, Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Supercars