Supercars: the story so far
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This weekend marks round six of the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, with teams flocking to the Northern Territory for the CrownBet Darwin Triple Crown at Hidden Valley.
With five rounds under the belt, four drivers have built up a healthy margin in the standings over Prodrive Racing’s Chaz Mostert in fifth.
And three of them — Shane van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin, and current series leader Fabian Coulthard — are Kiwis.
The trio have won every race so far this season bar one (a solitary win at Phillip Island for Mostert).
Curiously, van Gisbergen’s Red Bull Holden Racing Team teammate Jamie Whincup hasn’t won anything so far, yet he sits second in the points. In total, just 37 points separate the top four.
Whincup’s winless status could well change at this weekend’s hot Darwin layout.
He and van Gisbergen were quick there last year, while conversely it was something of a bogey round for Coulthard and McLaughlin.
The difference here is that for the latter duo, the Shell V-Power Racing Team Penske squad they race for has enjoyed an incredible off-season renaissance.
The signing of McLaughlin and new engineer Ludo Lacroix has breathed a gust of new life into the Ford team.
After having not won a race since 2010, it has won five so far this year.
“It was certainly not our expectation to be quite as competitive as we have been,” said the team’s managing director Ryan Story.
“It’s a testament to strong technical leadership and direction and having a fairly eager, capable and competent workforce wanting to get the job done.
“It’s exceeded all of our expectations. We’re in a very fortunate position of having two very good race drivers who enjoy working together and understand what teams are all about.”
Beyond the lead quartet, reigning Hidden Valley race winners Nissan Motorsport could once again be a factor, as could Prodrive Racing.
All three of Prodrive’s pilots are in the top 10 of the points, Mostert claimed a podium at this event last year, and the team is fresh from a Winton test that former champion Mark Winterbottom labelled “the best test day I’ve had in a long time”.
“We should be miles away the way we are at the moment, so the season is certainly not over,” he said.
“They (the Shell Fords) are going really quick and qualifying well. They take off, pit when they want and are dictating the races. That’s just raw speed.”
Two fresh faces and one returning face will complete the grid this weekend.
Youngsters Macauley Jones and Jack Le Brocq are entering their Super2 machines as part of the category’s new “wildcard” Super2 incentive, and series veteran Cameron McConville takes over the second Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden.