Scott McLaughlin trumps Kiwi rival in nail-biting Supercars opener
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Scott McLaughlin has won this weekend's opening Supercars race at Sydney Motorsport Park after a nail-biting showdown with fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen; decided by a last-lap brawl.
McLaughlin led for the majority of the race thanks to an aggressive lap strategy. But on each run van Gisbergen would eventually haul in the Shell V-Power Racing pilot. On both tyre cycles McLaughlin was able to build a three-second margin over van Gisbergen, only to lose all of it by the end of each stanza.
In the end a last-lap battle would decide the race; McLaughlin defying van Gisbergen's fresh tyres to win by just 0.1876 seconds. McLaughlin now leads the series by 41 points over Whincup, while van Gisbergen rirses to eighth in the standings.
After a hiatus of over 100 days, the Supercars Championship kicked back into life this afternoon. McLaughlin and van Gisbergen started the opening 32-lapper from the front row, ahead of Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert, with Jamie Whincup and Nick Percat on the third row.
McLaughlin narrowly won the start as the Red Bull entries filed into second and third ahead of Mostert, Percat, and Waters. By the end of the lap, McLaughlin had a mammoth lead of 1.8 seconds.
The crux of the race would be pit-stop strategy. Each team was only able to use two rattle guns (due to personel and social distancing restrictions), meaning that four-tyre stops would take twice as long as usual and subsequently making two-tyre stops much more tempting.
McLaughlin's rapid start looked like confirmation that he would commit to a four-tyre stop. His margin to van Gisbergen grew to over three seconds before stabilising.
The bulk of the race's mid-phase prior to the first pit-stops was relatively straightforward. Among the few talking points was Coulthard's position as the 'cork in the bottle' in the top 10 (reporting car issues over the radio). A mistake at the hairpin saw him lose two spots to Anton De Pasquale and Lee Holdsworth, and then he became the leader of a big multi-car battle for ninth place.
It was this battle that spawned the race's first pit-stops; Todd Hazelwood and David Reynolds pitting on lap 12 out of the traffic. Waters became the first of the front-runners to stop, doing so a lap later and grabbing just two tyres. McLaughlin stopped on lap 15, having lost almost all of his three-second margin to van Gisbergen prior to stopping.
Van Gisbergen was one of the last drivers to make their stop, doing so on lap 19. McLaughlin, Waters, Whincup, and Holdsworth subsequently took over the leading positions, but van Gisbergen had much fresher rubber underneath him for the run to the flag.
With both Waters and Holdsworth running on just two tyres, both were vulnerable to van Gisbergen. By lap 21 he had got by both, although not without an awkward moment at turn one as both he and Whincup got by the Monster Energy Mustang; van Gisbergen making the call to dive rather late. A few corners later, Whincup let van Gisbergen by to enable him to try and bridge the three-second gap to McLaughlin with 10 laps to go.
The gap was slowly but surely whittling down as the race ticked along. With seven laps to go the gap was well under two seconds, and with five laps to go it was down to seven tenths of a second. By the end of the lap, the fight was on.
McLaughlin actually made a slight gain on van Gisbergen on lap 28, but van Gisbergen was hanging on to ensure a last-lap grandstand finish. The Red Bull racer was close, but not quite close enough to five inside McLaughlin at turn four. The remained nose to tail over Corporate Hill, with McLaughlin holding a tight inside line for the following hairpin.
With McLaughlin holding on through the hairpin and the final corner, McLaughlin was able to claim victory by the slimmest of margins. In the end, less than two tenths decided the win.
Whincup completed the podium ahead of Mostert and Percat. Waters and Holdsworth, on their two-tyre strategies, faded late in the race to sixth and seventh, with Holdsworth narrowly holding off De Pasquale for a photo-finish. Mark Winterbottom and Coulthard completed the top 10.
Among the most notable drivers outside the top 10 was James Courtney. On debut for Tickford Racing, the former series champion finished a credible 12th (having started 21st). Andre Heimgartner and Chris Pither completed the Kiw contingent in 15th and 20th respectively.
2020 Supercars Championship Race 7, Sydney Motorsport Park
1. Scott McLaughlin
2. Shane van Gisbergen
3. Jamie Whincup
4. Chaz Mostert
5. Nick Percat
6. Cameron Waters
7. Lee Holdsworth
8. Anton De Pasquale
9. Mark Winterbottom
10. Fabian Coulthard
11. Todd Hazelwood
12. James Courtney
13. Bryce Fullwood
14. Rick Kelly
15. Andre Heimgartner
16. Garry Jacobson
17. Scott Pye
18. Macauley Jones
19. Jack LeBrocq
20. Chris Pither
21. David Reynolds
22. Jake Kostecki
23. Jack Smith
DNF. Alex Davison
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