Kiwi vs Kiwi, mate vs mate in Supercars title showdown
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The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s annual journey across the ditch is officially upon us, as racing kicks off at Pukekohe Raceway on Saturday.
Recent calendar announcements mean that this year’s ITM Auckland SuperSprint will be the last time the Supercars visit New Zealand at the business end of the championship (for now, at least). Next year the event shifts to mid-September.
And for Kiwis, it’s a finger-licking championship scenario indeed.
Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen have dominated the season’s results. The pair has won half of the year’s races between them (McLaughlin on seven, van Gisbergen on six).
With just 14 measly points separating them and more than 300 points to the chasing pack (headed by Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes, and David Reynolds), it’s hard to imagine anyone else challenging for the title in the last four races.
“It is going to be about no mistakes,” said van Gisbergen.
“That is sort of what this year has been about. When we were clawing points back in the middle of the season he [McLaughlin] wasn’t making mistakes. That’s what you need to do, be up there every week and minimise your bad days.”
Along with unforced errors, the other element that always rears its head at this time of the season is ‘momentum’.
McLaughlin holds the points lead, but hasn’t scored a race win since July. On the other hand, back-to-back wins in the Sydney Motorsport Park night race at Sandown 500 saw van Gisbergen briefly take the points lead.
A trying Gold Coast 600 saw championship positions swap again, but it’s worth noting that van Gisbergen is a defending race winner at Pukekohe. McLaughlin on the other hand hasn’t won in Pukekohe since 2013 (ironically, that was his first Supercars victory).
But still, that’s one more win than Craig Lowndes.
The touring-car legend is set to retire from the series as a full-time driver at the end of the season. And Pukekohe has the unique distinction of being one of the few venues where Lowndes has never won a race. This weekend he sports a fresh National Storage paint scheme.
“I want to win a race here before I don’t come back as a race driver,” said Lowndes, speaking to Radio Sport.
Apart from two second-place finishes, Lowndes’ best previous performance at Pukekohe was in 2015, when a blown tyre on the front straight thwarted his charge while sitting in the lead.
“It’s all these Kiwi drivers. There’s too many of you,” he laughed. “[Murphy] was winning it every year, thank God he retired. Now we’ve got Shane, Fabian [Coulthard], Scotty … we’ve got too many.
“It’s a great track; we’re looking forward to getting there because they’ve resurfaced parts of it from last year. It’s one of the bumpiest tracks we go to, it’s exciting, it makes the cars look fast, and of course the weather is unpredictable. All those elements make for a good weekend.”
Beyond the Supercars, the weekend also sees a bevy of local championships kick off their summer-series calendars. This includes the Toyota 86 Series and BNT V8s; the latter pitting young Aussies Jack Smith and Brenton Grove against the likes of Nick Ross and Chelsea Herbert.