New Zealand’s Fabian Coulthard enjoyed a welcome return to form with a podium finish in today’s race in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship at Winton Raceway in Victoria.
Coulthard sprang into the lead after starting on the front row of the grid, but lost out when he pitted a lap before a safety car period of which a number of other drivers too full advantage with a top-up in fuel for the 200km race.
As a result he slotted back into the pack in seventh after his second stop but the Team Penske Holden driver found excellent speed on fresh tyres to force his way up to third place behind winner Tim Slade and defending champion Mark Winterbottom.
“It was not a bad day and an awesome recovery after yesterday. We tried out best and today third was the best we could do,” Coulthard said after duelling with Winterbottom over the last 10 laps.
Winterbottom got his strategy perfect, taking advantage of the safety car, to claim second and move to the top of the championship table, just ahead of New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin who moved to the top of the rankings yesterday after his second placing in Saturday’s race.
After a strong start today McLaughlin was another to get on the wrong side of the safety car and ultimately would finish in 11th place.
The globetrotting Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen drove impressively after a mistake in qualifying saw him start back in 12th place on the grid, finishing fourth just behind Coulthard to remain in fifth place in the championship.
Of the other Kiwis, Coulthard’s podium has seen him improve to 14th in the championship after 11 races, with Chris Pither, 18th today and 24th in the championship and Andre Heimgartner 21st in the race and 25th overall.
It proved a double success for the popular Slade, who waited 227 races to gain his maiden win yesterday and followed that with a faultless display and team strategy for his second victory for the Brad Jones Racing team who are based close to the Winton track.
The championship moves to Darwin for the next stop on 17-19 June.
New Zealand’s Scott McLaughlin has claimed the lead in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship after finishing second in today’s race at Winton in Victoria.
The 22 year old from the Garry Rogers Racing team, guided his Volvo safely through the 40 laps to hold off defending Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom who pushed hard throughout but could not pass the Kiwi.
“It was another tough battle. For our guys we have to tune our car up but I am so stoked we can get another podium. We are going alright,” said an under-stated McLaughlin.
The last time a Volvo driver led the championship was New Zealand’s Robbie Francevic in 1986, when he went on to win the title.
“And I was not even born then,” quipped McLaughlin.
It proved an excellent breakthrough win for Tim Slade, who took over from Kiwi Fabian Coulthard at Brad Jones Racing.
He became the ninth different winner from 10 races this season, to illustrate the competitive nature of the field this year.
Slade cleared out from the pole position and was never threatened as McLaughlin and three former champions in Winterbottom, Rick Kelly and Jamie Whincup battled for the podium.
“Tim’s a good mate of mine and it’s his first win. He’s been waiting a long time. It’s awesome to see and I am stoked for him,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin made his move off the line, jumping superbly from fourth on the grid to beat a stuttering Winterbottom into the first corner. From there it was a matter of getting the tactics right on the tight track that offered few passing opportunities.
McLaughlin leads the championship on 984 points from Whincup on 1963, Craig Lowndes 954 and Winterbottom 945.
While it was a celebration for the young Kiwi driver, it proved a lack-lustre day for the rest of the New Zealand drivers who struggled to come to grips with the resurfaced Winton Raceway.
Shane van Gisbergen, fresh back in Australia after racing in England last weekend, finished ninth after qualifying 11th, Coulthard finished 17th from 15th on the grid, one place ahead of Chris Pither in the Super Black Racing entry with Andre Heimgartner 23rd.
Van Gisbergen retains fifth place in the championship with Coulthard 16th, as the Kiwi drivers chase more competitive lap times ahead of tomorrow’s 200km race.
In a week when Volvo announced they will not continue in the V8 Supercars Championship, their star Kiwi driver Scott McLaughlin came within a whisker of what would have been a memorable win at Barbagallo Raceway in Perth.
McLaughlin, Saturday’s winner Craig Lowndes and fellow New Zealander Shane van Gisbergen used a three-stop strategy to catch current V8 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom with two laps remaining in the 200km race.
With tyres used up after just two-stops, Winterbottom managed to hold off the charge from McLaughlin to win ahead of the charging trio.
“The team gave me an awesome strategy and got me right there but when I got to Frosty (Winterbottom) I had nothing left. Damn it, it was so close,” said McLaughlin
“It’s been a hard week,” he said in reference to the Volvo announcement. “A lot of people have talked about where I am going but this weekend is for the team and I am glad I am with this team. They rally behind you like no other and all I had to do was be a leader and we got there in the end so I am stoked.”
The two New Zealand drivers remain in a tight battle for the championship, now led by Lowndes, with McLaughlin third and van Gisbergen fifth, only 91 points from the lead.
“It was cool to see the different strategies working. For me having a good car here was awesome. I pushed the whole way and had good battles and good passes,” van Gisbergen said.
“I pushed too hard too early and caught up to them but had nothing left and dropped away. But fourth is alright and good points so I am happy-as.”
On Saturday Lowndes’ Red Bull Racing team opted for a fresh set of tyres and an extra stop to haul in an 18-second gap to win the race ahead of van Gisbergen.
Armed with that information, most teams opted for a three-stop strategy to utilise tyres late in the race. While the catcher prospered on Saturday, today they came up just short in an exciting battle.
“I thought we were in trouble before the race with a set of tyres short,” said Winterbottom, who was forced to use an extra set after a driver error on Saturday.
“That’s awesome after yesterday when I drove absolutely horribly and I hope I have redeemed something.”
Winterbottom thought he had lost the race when a lapped car passed him with four laps remaining, with the manoeuvre costing the Ford driver valuable time.
“By the time they caught me they were no longer on new tyres and I fought hard to the end. Scotty (McLaughlin) drove hard but clean and was probably nice to me. It is good to get a first win for the year.”
Of the other Kiwis today, Chris Pither showed remarkable speed to qualify eighth for the Super Black Racing all-New Zealand team, although tailed off at the end to finish 14th, just ahead of the Team Penske Ford of Fabian Coulthard who was slightly off the pace throughout the weekend. Andre Heimgartner finished 25th for Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport.
After nine races Lowndes leads the championship on 894 from teammate Jaime Whincup on 852, McLaughlin 846, Winterbottom 816 and van Gisbergen 803. Coulthard is in 115th place, Pither 24th and Heimgartner 25th.
The next stop is at Winton in Victoria on 20-22 May, with tickets also on sale for the sole New Zealand round of the series, the ITM Auckland SuperSprint on 4-6 November.
Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen was the meat in a Triple Eight Racing sandwich in finishing second in the first of two V8 Supercars Championship races in Perth.
It proved a bizarre day of weather that produced an equally bizarre race, with Craig Lowndes powering through the field on fresh tyres from near last to win ahead of van Gisbergen and teammate Jamie Whincup.
Today was punctuated with bursts of heavy rain in between fine periods that produced a once-sided qualifying when only half the field completed a lap on slick tyres in the rain before a red flag stopped the session. With the teams reverting to wet tyres, the rest of the field had no chance to achieve a time to match those on the first-lap slicks.
However van Gisbergen was one to prosper, starting fourth on the grid. The Holden driver showed absolute class in the slippery conditions to work his way to the lead but this evaporated like the rain after his team waited one lap too many to dash in for slick tyres in the improving conditions.
The fresh surface became every more abrasive than usual, with van Gisbergen withstanding a bevy of challengers that grouped behind the leader in the 50 lap race.
That was until Lowndes’ engineer rolled the dice to bring him in for a new set of tyres, and the master drove superbly to force his way through the field, finally over-taking teammates Whincup and van Gisbergen two laps from the finish.
The rain started to fall again, with Whincup almost collecting the New Zealander in the rapidly wet surface, but they managed to complete an outstanding team trifecta and the 16th victory for Lowndes at Western Australia.
“That was cool. Well done to the team. One-two-three is pretty awesome so I am pretty stoked,” van Gibergen.
It also marked a strong day for the New Zealand drivers, none more so that the Super Black Racing team, with Chris Pither driving a splendidly controlled race for eighth, the first top-10 finish for the Kiwi team.
Scott McLaughlin was 11th with Fabian Coulthard 17th, after he given a drive- through penalty for an unsafe release, and Andre Heimgartner 21st.
The result sees McLaughlin slip one spot on the championship ladder to third behind Whincup and Lowndes, with van Gisbergen up to fourth, Coulthard 16th, Pither 24th and Heimgartner 25th. The second race is tomorrow.