McLaughlin wins, holds Supercars points advantage for Newcastle
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The Supercars Championship is set to be decided in Newcastle, after a tense closing race at Pukekohe Raceway.
Scott McLaughlin broke a five-year drought to take victory honours — effectively cancelling out his loss to Shane van Gisbergen in yesterday's controversial brawl after 'SVG' finished second. It means that the pair will do battle at the final round with just 14 points separating them, to the good of McLaughlin.
The Sunday win also saw McLaughlin win the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy for the first time. He's the second Kiwi to claim the crown.
The win was once again fraught with memorable on-track battles. Most of them took place between McLaughlin and Jamie Whincup. A last-lap decision from Whincup to slow down and let van Gisbergen claim second place divided the crowd while simultaneously enhancing van Gisbergen's title hopes.
Defending champ Whincup denied the two lead title rivals in qualifying, after snatching pole in the top-10 shootout. All five Kiwi drivers on the grid made it into the shootout, with McLaughlin and van Gisbergen predictably setting the second and third–best times.
Whincup led from the start, but went off sequence on lap five with an early pit stop. McLaughlin and van Gisbergen pressed on for a longer opening stint, but eventually stopped on lap 13 and 16 respectively.
McLaughlin's opening pit went off without problem, but it wasn't the same for van Gisbergen. The Red Bull ace lost numerous positions and plenty of time to Whincup and McLaughlin after fueling delays and a premature air-jack release.
As a result, van Gisbergen slipped to eighth place in the order after the stop sequence; Whincup, McLaughlin, Craig Lowndes, David Reynolds, Mark Winterbottom the top five. And by the next pit sequence, McLaughlin had leap-frogged Whincup to take first place.
It wasn't without its close calls. The Shell Falcon re-joined the circuit narrowly ahead of Whincup. After almost making contact on the run to turn three, McLaughlin was able to scamper away with a meager lead in his favour.
Behind him, van Gisbergen had improved in the cycle via a sequence of productive laps (which included passes on James Courtney and Winterbottom) to sit in fifth. Like yesterday's race, he chose to stop late in favour of fresher tyres for the run to the chequered flag.
His first mission out of pit lane was to catch up to Lowndes and Reynolds in fourth and fifth. This proved easy in the case of Lowndes, who made it easy for his Triple Eight stablemate to get past. More difficult was Reynolds, but the job was done with 10 laps remaining (Lowndes also passed Reynolds in the following laps).
It was then a question of whether Whincup could snatch first from McLaughlin. The gap had incrementally shrunk, and with seven laps to go it was well under a second. For the second race in a row, a grandstand finish was imminent.
But as the last lap struck, a last-lap throwdown was denied by Red Bull's calculated tactics. The decision was made for Whincup to back off on the closing lap to allow van Gisbergen past at the finish line. The positional change meant that the 2016 champ's points tally for the weekend would crucially equal McLaughlin's.
Lowndes, Reynolds, and Mostert completed the top six. Fellow Kiwis Fabian Coulthard and André Heimgartner were seventh and eighth, while Winterbottom and Nick Percat rounded out the top 10.