Shane van Gisbergen beats McLaughlin in Pukekohe thriller
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Shane van Gisbergen has won the opening race of the ITM Auckland SuperSprint; edging his main title rival and fellow Kiwi Scott McLaughlin in a layered and exciting race.
The pair clashed on track numerous times, with van Gisbergen winning by just half a second. But a post-race investigation looms for the Holden ace, for his rear tyres spinning during his second pit-stop. The penalty could see him surrender the win, and could expand the championship margin that currently sits at a mere two points.
"That was one of the coolest races I’ve ever had," van Gisbergen said.
"We were having a great battle with James Courtney, and the pass with Scotty, he jammed it up quite nice and I just touched the back of him.
"But great respect through the last couple of corners side-by-side and cleared him up over the hill. Watching the crowd, it’s the coolest experience."
The day began with McLaughlin claiming a popular pole position, with his title rival van Gisbergen right on his tail in second (David Reynolds, Chaz Mostert, Jamie Whincup, Nick Percat, Tim Slade, Cameron Waters, Rick Kelly, and Anton de Pasquale were the top 10).
From the dirty inside line, McLaughlin took the lead off the start of the 70-lap race from pole over van Gisbergen, Reynolds, and Mostert.
There were several victims in the opening lap skirmish down the order. Craig Lowndes was one of them, dropping to the back of the order in short time after a spin at turn six. Courtney and Mark Winterbottom also fell back, but both did so voluntarily via early 'dice-rolling' pit stops.
Photo / Dave Kavermann
The strategy paid off shortly after, following a huge crash at the final corner for Fabian Coulthard. It was a case of deja vu for the Shell V-Power pilot, after a similar magnitude crash cost him a finish in the same race 12 months ago.
The crash was prompted by three-way contact between Coulthard, Lee Holdsworth, and Richie Stanaway. The accordion-like contact on the run to the last corner resulted in Coulthard slapping the inside wall, then ricocheting hard into the concrete-lined outside wall. The damage was severe, and a long delay under safety car ensued.
Stanaway later inherited a drive-through penalty and a post-race penalty for his role in the clash.
Everyone peeled off to pit apart from Courtney and Winterbottom who both leaped up the order. Thus when racing resumed and everyone fell into their positions in the queue, Courtney led McLaughlin, van Gisbergen, Mostert, Reynolds, Winterbottom, and Cameron Waters.
The driver on the move following the restart was van Gisbergen. On lap 21 he got past McLaughlin for second after several laps of scrapping. Then on lap 30 he attempted to pull a move at the hairpin on Courtney. The move stuck for a few moments, but Courtney cut underneath him to get back by using the outside of 'the kink'.
As van Gisbergen and Courtney continued to fight (the Red Bull ace eventually got him on lap 34), McLaughlin pitted on lap 30 for his second stop. It set off a flurry of other stops down the order, but van Gisbergen was defiant out the front; pressing on to set himself up for a superior tyre set in the dying laps.
With 25 laps to go, van Gisbergen finally stopped. He rejoined more than four seconds behind McLaughlin, and side by side with Mostert. The gap to McLaughlin was over four seconds at this point, but van Gisbergen was eating generous chunks out of the gap and with 20 laps to go it was under two seconds.
Potential drama was unfolding in the background, though. A drive-through penalty was being weighed up for van Gisbergen spinning his rear tyres during his pit-stop, notably just before being released from his bay.
While discussions took place behind the scenes, van Gisbergen whittled down the lead to nothing with 12 laps to go, and with 10 to go he made his move.
It was an exceptional pass beginning at the hairpin. McLaughlin defended the inside line with resilience, only for van Gisbergen to make rear-on contact with him while using the high line to cut underneath the Falcon on corner exit. With a better run on his side, he hung outside McLaughlin through the kink before nipping past at the final corner.
He immediately built a gap over his compatriot, and it all looked to be over. However, a five-second penalty for the mid-corner impact was handed to van Gisbergen in the dying laps. And then, officialdom confirmed that the spinning wheels in pit lane would be investigated post-race.
It all set up for a grand-stand finish, as van Gisbergen scurried to make a five-second gap over McLaughlin. And by the start of the last lap it looked once again like a foregone conclusion, as the gap tapped over five seconds. A last-lap, last corner slide for van Gisbergen put hearts in mouths, but it wasn't enough to stop him winning with a 5.5-second margin.
Reynolds finished fourth, ahead of Whincup who had been forced to forge through the grid after queuing in pit lane behind van Gisbergen. Scott Pye, Waters, Percat, Courtney, and Michael Caruso completed the top 10. Lowndes recovered from his lap-one spin to finish 11th, while André Heimgartner and Richie Stanaway completed the finishing Kiwi drivers in 18th and 23rd.