Dale Budge: Scott McLaughlin should have won Supercars title
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Scott McLaughlin should have been Supercars champion this year. Frankly it is a travesty he isn't.
I'm not talking about the final lap penalty being unfair or officials getting it wrong. With time to reflect I think the right call was made at the end of yesterday's final race concerning the contact with Craig Lowndes although it seemed to be a rushed decision given the magnitude of the occasion.
McLaughlin didn't give Lowndes enough racing room and the veteran Holden driver had every right to be alongside the Kiwi. I believe McLaughlin's account that he couldn't see Lowndes but that doesn't mean he can get away with moving across when Lowndes was definitely alongside him.
I need to be clear about my complaints – Jamie Whincup won the championship fair and square and there should be no thought of appeals etc. It is done and nothing could or should change that. He raced smartly and consistently and took full advantage of the rules as they are in 2017. But the most dominant driver this year has not won and there needs to be questions asked around why not and whether Supercars has got the formula right?
McLaughlin won more races and clearly had the best car across the season. Whincup was consistent but if you cancel out the shocking days each driver had over the weekend (Whincup on Saturday and McLaughlin Sunday) where was the difference between the two?
Covering up some of the issues as I see it will be the fact McLaughlin made errors yesterday that cost him the chance of winning despite any flawed system. But that doesn't mean we can't examine potential flaws in the system.
One obvious issue is how McLaughlin came to be penalized for speeding in pit lane when Shane van Gisbergen wasn't. The 2016 champion closed the gap on his compatriot during the very part of the lane where McLaughlin was adjudged to be speeding. Simple physics will tell you that if the car in front was speeding then the car behind had to be as well if the gap between the two closed. Supercars use a radar gun just like police officers on our highways do. On the highway you run the risk of being fined if you speed. Some get away with it while others don't. But it should be different when it comes to racing. It is unfair to ping only the lead car in that circumstance. All drivers must be held to the same standards. It was clear yesterday that van Gisbergen wasn't.
I have my concerns around whether either car was speeding to be honest. In-car footage suggested there was no issue and I hope Supercars gets to the bottom of it. If a mistake has been made they need to own up to it.
Let's pretend McLaughlin didn't slow down enough by the time he reached the pit entry. Should a minor speeding violation at pit entry earn a full drive-through penalty when you can dive bomb another competitor, bang into them and ruin their race and only get a 15s time penalty? I'm not sure that the punishment fits the crime.
The other major issue I have with this year's championship is the hit McLaughlin took at Bathurst when Whincup was able to minimize his punishment. This is the key difference between winning the title and finishing a close second.
Both cars suffered engine failure. McLaughlin's happened at the top of the mountain and they couldn't get it back to the pits to repair. Whincup was able to get his car back to the pits. His Red Bull Holden team spent hours getting the car repaired and sent him out to limp around for a lap at the end of the race to be classified as a finisher and collect a decent haul of points while McLaughlin couldn't get a single point. Motor racing is littered with bad luck stories and engine failure is part of the deal. But I have concern that Whincup could manage to get one lap out of his car to secure a significant haul of points. There is too much reward for that. They need to complete more of the race to get points in my opinion. Maybe a fairer way would be to only dish out points to drivers that finish no more than five laps down etc.
Those were the things that swung the championship Whincup's way. Was it done according to the rules? Absolutely but it is now time to have a think about the implication of those rules.
Finally a bit of credit to the two drivers involved in yesterday's title fight. McLaughlin must have been distraught when he hopped out of his car yet he handled himself with class and was good enough to speak to television reporter Greg Murphy despite the emotion. Whincup too demonstrated plenty of class in acknowledging the role McLaughlin played this year and the tough circumstances in which the trophy was won. And he certainly doesn't deserve any criticism for winning. He played within the rules and did what was required.