And so it begins. Four consecutive weekends of Supercars racing were kicked off with the Darwin Triple Crown.
The introduction of tyre restrictions when the season resumed at the end of June has put consistency further at the forefront of the top teams’ minds. This was even more so this weekend as there was a trophy at stake for whoever could score the most points across all three races.
It was all set for another great battle between DJR Team Penske and Red Bull Holden that would last all weekend long. But that would have been too easy.
The first race of the weekend on Saturday afternoon was chaotic to say the least.
Both of the main championship protagonists found themselves in hot water.
First, Jamie Whincup picked up a 15 second time penalty after his team unsafely released him into the path of Anton de Pasquale.
Then, at the first safety car restart, Scott McLaughlin moved ahead of James Courtney before the control line and so he too found himself with a 15 second time penalty.
Meantime, Anton de Pasquale was staying out of trouble and leading comfortably before taking his first ever win in Supercars.
De Pasquale’s victory followed a strategy that has been employed many times by smaller teams in recent races. For the likes of Penrite Racing, who aren’t in the championship fight, it is worth going for maximum attack in one race for a chance to pick up a win.
With Jamie Whincup finishing race 13 in 17th place and Scott McLaughlin finishing in 20th after their respective penalties had been applied, both Red Bull Holden and DJR Team Penske were going for glory on Sunday afternoon.
They were helped by the fact that the soft tyres turned out to be more durable than what was originally thought, owing to low tyre degradation. This meant that the soft compound was used all day on Sunday.
The only difference in strategy between DJR Team Penske and Red Bull Holden was that DJR Team Penske chose to change the tyres on the right-hand side of the car, otherwise known as the loaded side, while Red Bull Holden chose to change only the rear tyres.
Both races on Sunday were decided in the pits. McLaughlin made the overcut work on teammate Fabian Coulthard in race 14 while Whincup made the undercut work on McLaughlin in race 15.
Track position was key because it was difficult to follow cars due to rising car temperatures when positioned right behind the car in front. Also, any advantage you had with fresher tyres relative to the cars in front would be negated after a few laps with the limited overtaking opportunities available.
Fabian Coulthard could have won the Triple Crown had he been ahead of Shane Van Gisbergen and Chas Mostert after his pit stop. He was left frustrated after having to slow down in the pits to avoid Whincup, who was leaving his pit box whilst Coulthard was about to enter his pit box.
Coulthard was unable to overtake, or even attempt to overtake, Mostert and so missed out on the Triple Crown as he and Whincup were on equal points. Whincup won the Triple Crown by virtue of winning race 15.
That said, Coulthard was still pleased with how the weekend had gone. This was the Kiwi’s best weekend of the season, getting onto the front row and challenging his teammate for the lead in the early stages of race 14.
Unfortunately for Coulthard, he locked up the front left and went off the track at turn 1, eliminating any chance of him going after the race win, having already been overcut by McLaughlin.
Jamie Whincup does thoroughly deserve to win the Triple Crown, having crashed in practice on Saturday morning. A great job from him and his team to come back from that.
It was so close between McLaughlin and Whincup this weekend that the gap between the two drivers in the championship moved very little with fairly matched results across the weekend as a whole.
McLaughlin’s lead in the driver’s championship has been cut ever so slightly to 101 points but the gap to Chas Mostert in third has stretched to 210 points.
DJR Team Penske still only have a slim lead of 30 points over Red Bull Holden in the team’s championship.
Supercars are back at Hidden Valley Raceway next weekend for the Darwin SuperSprint.
It’s now more important than ever to make the most out of every race no matter what strategy you’re on, seeing as it’s unclear how soon the championship will finish. Owing to the various border closures and Covid restrictions across Australia, the Supercars champion could be crowned as soon as October at the Bathurst 1000.
Thanks to the Northern Territory Government for clearing Supercars to race in Darwin. We’re having a great time.