Six wins in a row: Scott McLaughlin snatches Townsville victory as rivals fumble
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After initially starting the day on seemingly the wrong foot, Scott McLaughlin has extended his lead of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship with yet another race victory — this time at the Watpac Townsville 400.
From the second row of the grid he marched forwards to lead Jamie Whincup and Chaz Mostert to the finish. It's the defending champion's 13th race win of the year thus far. He now leads the series with a huge 358-point margin.
The opening stanza was a physical one, particularly in the mid-pack. A strong start from Andre Heimgartner was thwarted after he was knocked off line at turn two by Whincup, who in turn had been clouted by Cameron Waters. The Monster Energy Ford Mustang driver ended up inheriting a penalty later on, but for a separate incident that saw him spin Heimgartner's teammate Rick Kelly.
Speaking of teammates, early race contender Chaz Mostert and Tickford stablemate Will Davison almost spun each other at the high-speed right hander that frames the back end of the Townsville circuit. Mostert's nose inside Davison was met with steely defense — subsequent contact placing both cars sideways. Luckily, they were able to escape disaster.
As the race went on, three names emerged as key candidates for the win; McLaughlin, David Reynolds, and Whincup.
Reynolds had dominated the first stint from pole position, but lost time (and places) between pit-stops. McLaughlin meanwhile had fought from outside the podium places to get by Mostert in a physical exchange through the back-to-back chicanes. And then there was Whincup, who had elected to undercut all of the front-runners with two early pit-stops in both cycles.
Even with the poor mid-race pace, Reynolds looked positioned to be the most logical choice for a win. But his second pit stop proved to be a disaster — a stuck left-rear wheel-nut lengthening his stationary time by some six seconds and stripping him from the battle.
This left Whincup to fend off McLaughlin; the former undercutting his way into a meager (on corrected) lead after the last stop and the latter carrying fresher tyres with more than 20 laps to catch and pass his Red Bull rival. And, sure enough, McLaughlin snatched the lead at the last corner at the end of lap 49.
From there, the race became a straightforward one. No safety cars or traffic concerns would plague McLaughlin, and he would go on to claim his 13th race win of the season by over five seconds.
Behind him, Whincup fended off Mostert to finish a gritty second for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. In fourth was van Gisbergen — having stormed through the field on an alternative strategy and fresh tyres in the dying laps. The last of these passes was a final-lap move on Fabian Coulthard.
Coulthard, like McLaughlin, had also staged an impressive race recovery. After starting from outside the top 10 he benefited from a similar strategy to Whincup to claim fifth. Reynolds ended up sixth, with Davison, Nick Percat, Mark Winterbottom, and Lee Holdsworth completing the top 10. After his early clash with Waters and a subsequent long stop to trim damage, Heimgartner ended up 12th.
Race 17, Watpac Townsville 400 results
1. Scott McLaughlin
2. Jamie Whincup
3. Chaz Mostert
4. Shane van Gisbergen
5. Fabian Coulthard
6. David Reynolds
7. Will Davison
8. Nick Percat
9. Mark Winterbottom
10. Lee Holdsworth
11. Anton de Pasquale
12. Andre Heimgartner
13. James Courtney
14. Todd Hazelwood
15. James Golding
16. Tim Slade
17. Rick Kelly
18. Macauley Jones
19. Simona de Silvestro
20. Scott Pye
21. Cameron Waters
22. Michael Caruso
23. Jack Le Brocq
24. Garry Jacobson