Penske charged with team orders breach over slow safety-car saga
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Yesterday's incredible Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 victory for DJR Team Penske (and drivers Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat), was overshadowed by what appeared to be a case of team tactics during one of the pivotal safety-car periods in the race's dying stages.
Following the race, recordings of the team's radio transmissions to Fabian Coulthard in the No. 12 Shell V-Power Racing Ford Mustang seemed to prove it. And, the Supercars Championship has now confirmed a team orders rule D24 breach took place. A subsequent judicial hearing has been scheduled to take place before the next round on the Gold Coast.
While running third, Coulthard dropped 40 seconds to race leader McLaughlin (and Jamie Whincup) under safety car. This not only allowed the Shell team to process both cars in pit-lane without 'double stacking', but it also bunched up the balance of the field from fourth position onwards.
DJR Team Penske's Ryan Storey later claimed that Coulthard slowed because he was battling overheating issues. However, the recording of Coulthard's radio communications feature no mention of overheating. Instead, Coulthard is repeatedly instructed to slow for 'debris'. During the subsequent pit-stop, the bonnet of Coulthard's Mustang was evidently raised.
During the pit cycle, Andre Heimgartner dropped two spots in the pits, and Shane van Gisbergen claimed post race to have more traffic to contend with than otherwise duo to the delay. Conversely, James Golding jumped from fifth to third and Mark Winterbottom jumped up to fourth. These elements are likely to form part of the review during the hearing.
Rule D24 in the Supercars Operations Manual states that "an instruction to a Driver or Team member, either verbal or otherwise the effect of which may interfere with a race result" is illegal if "it is not permitted for any sponsor, supplier, entity or related entity, including an Automobile manufacturer, importer or their representative to impose or seek to impose Team orders, on any Team."
Allegations of team orders haven't been unprecedented in Supercars recently. Last year at Pukekohe Raceway, Whincup controversially slowed on the final lap — helping Shane van Gisbergen gain a position. It was claimed that Whincup was running low on fuel, and had to slow down to make it to the finish.
Supercars clarified after that allegation that team orders are in fact legal, which was part of a rule change implemented at the end of 2017. The difference between that case and that of Coulthard yesterday afternoon is the swapping of two team cars in isolation during green-flag conditions, versus one car creating a 40-second gap and appearing to impede almost 20 cars in the process.
“I don’t want to say anything, but it’s pretty obvious what happened,” van Gisbergen said of Coulthard's slowing during the safety car.
“Probably still we would have had to fight it out with Jamie and Scotty, which would have been awesome, and we would have had to (have) been closer. We were stuck behind so many more cars, so much more traffic, but it is what it is.
“That car’s been a sacrificial lamb all year, so deal with it.”
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