This weekend’s Darwin SuperSprint has seen a significant shift in the championship towards Scott
McLaughlin, who won all three races at Hidden Valley Raceway.
He may not have batted well when the DJR Team Penske guys played some cricket at the DXC Arena in the week, but McLaughlin has now got a half-century of victories in Supercars, with 51 race victories to his name.
McLaughlin has now moved past the late great Peter Brock and into fifth place on the list of most winningest drivers in the sport, an achievement that the Kiwi is very proud of.
Coming into the weekend, McLaughlin had a 101-point lead in the championship over Jamie Whincup but that has now been extended to 177 points.
This comes as a result of Red Bull Holden not improving as much as DJR Team Penske have, if at all.
That said, Whincup took pole position for race 16 and Shane Van Gisbergen likewise for race 18. In the races themselves though, McLaughlin had much better pace over both Red Bull Holden drivers and won by comfortable margins.
With tyre degradation low, battles were based on pace compared to tyre life, in contrast to what we have seen in recent rounds.
Pace was what McLaughlin had in bucketloads. DJR Team Penske took full advantage of the Darwin doubleheader to use the knowledge gained from last weekend to improve their performance this weekend.
The two pole positions that Red Bull Holden took do show that they had some qualifying pace, but this came at the detriment of tyres. There may have been low tyre degradation that helped tyre life and tyre performance but taking too much out of the tyre doesn’t help matters.
That was Red Bull Holden’s downfall. For example, in race 16, Van Gisbergen had to have all four tyres changed because he had pushed too hard at the start of the race.
Considering that pit stop was the only one across all three races where all four tyres were changed – all the other stops saw just two tyres changed – it’s not hard to see what went wrong.
While McLaughlin was qualifying either on used sets of tyres or only running a fresher set of tyres for one flying lap, Red Bull Holden were using a fresher set of tyres for an entire qualifying session.
In race 18, Whincup decided not to battle with the likes of Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom because they had a far greater tyre advantage to himself. This left Whincup well adrift, finishing in seventh position in that race, almost twenty seconds behind race winner McLaughlin.
So not only did McLaughlin have the pace, he also managed his tyres better than Red Bull Holden. And it’s that double whammy that has hit Red Bull Holden hard this weekend.
McLaughlin just keeps getting better and better. Yes, he is still acing it in qualifying and racking up his tally of race victories, but his starts have greatly improved.
There is a clear upward trend in McLaughlin’s starts from when the season resumed at Sydney Motorsport Park to how he stormed away from the start this weekend. This has been something that McLaughlin has been focusing on recently and now he is reaping the rewards.
Couple McLaughlin ticking all the necessary boxes and Whincup finishing lower down the order and you can see how McLaughlin has been able to massively extend his championship lead.
The misfortunes of Whincup, Van Gisbergen and Fabian Coulthard meant there were podium places up for grabs for the smaller teams.
Cameron Waters finished third in race 16, becoming the latest Tickford driver to find success in this sprint format. His Monster Energy Racing Ford Mustang has had great pace but, up until Waters’ podium on Saturday, there haven’t been the results to show for it.
The Dewalt Racing entry of Scott Pye picked up two third-place finishes in race 17 and race 18. With Winterbottom also performing well, this has been a great weekend for Charlie Schwerkolt Racing and they are looking to continue with this good pace in Townsville.
Nick Percat had a rollercoaster ride of a weekend, coming back from being spun around by Mostert in race 17 to finish second in race 18.
From the high of a win in both rounds at Sydney Motorsport Park, it hasn’t been the easiest of times in Darwin for Percat and Brad Jones Racing. This podium is just the tonic they needed.
Next weekend sees the start of another doubleheader, this time in Townsville.
It’s a track that Red Bull Holden have been successful at in recent years and that is exactly what they need if they are to stop Scott McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske running away with it this season.