Watch: Andre Heimgartner denied maiden win in Sydney Supercars thriller
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Kiwis have continued to star in Supercars, following a surprise day of results at the latest event at Sydney Motorsport Park.
Scott McLaughlin won the weekend opener at night, with the torch passed to fellow Kiwi Andre Heimgartner on Sunday; the Kelly Racing racer claiming a tightly fought second place in the final race of the weekend after earning a maiden pole position earlier in the day. The race two and three wins went to Nick Percat and Jack Le Brocq; the latter's victory coming under tense circumstances as Heimgartner, Todd Hazelwood, and David Reynolds all pushed him to the chequered flag on the final lap.
The second consecutive Sydney weekend would have the same make-up as the first, with teams allocated a certain number of soft tyres for the weekend insufficient to complete all three races. This meant most of the championship leaders would try and spread that allocation over the three races, while some of the opportunistic drivers from the lower end of the top 10 would try to steal away wins by focusing their soft-tyre usage on singular races.
Last night's opening race in the dark was won by McLaughlin, leading home Lee Holdsworth, Anton de Pasquale, van Gisbergen, and Jamie Whincup. From pole, the series leader had started the race on hard tyres before swapping to softs for the run home — successfully holding off Holdsworth and De Pasquale, who had both committed to run soft tyres all race long.
Van Gisbergen had the race early and looked like McLaughlin's equal, but his late stop to swap softs for hards proved an unsuccessful 'overcut'. He was able to salvage fourth place as some of the soft runners, his teammate included, limped home. Cameron Waters, Fabian Coulthard, Macauley Jones, Percat, and Mark Winterbottom rounded out the top 10.
Percat claimed his second win of the year in Sunday's opening race, having saved two sets of soft tyres and having qualified on the second row of the grid. The victory was a comfortable one; snatched by 11 seconds over Coulthard's Shell V-Power Racing Mustang.
The fight for third place was the biggest battle of the closing laps. Returning former champion James Courtney was staring down the battle of a possible drought-ending third place, but he was chased down with a few laps to go by Rick Kelly and McLaughlin (the latter having reflected his Saturday strategy, starting on hards and finishing on softs). By the time the final lap started, Chaz Mostert and Garry Jacobson had made it a chaotic five-car duel for third.
Courtney held them off until the run to the flag, with McLaughlin getting a much better run out of the final corner and triggering a tense photo finish [pictured above]. Courtney had to settle for fourth over Kelly, Jacobson, van Gisbergen (strategy again denying a position at the pointy end after he led early on), Waters, and an impressive Jack Smith in 10th.
For the third race of the weekend, Heimgartner claimed a maiden pole position over Whincup. It was the Kiwi's first solo Supercars pole, and was aided by an early decision to save soft tyres for later in the weekend. Despite qualifying on the second row for the second race, the team decided to save most of its soft-tyre stocks for the final to give him the best possible chance of a maiden win.
Whincup got the initial jump off the start, only for Heimgartner to have an excellent second phase to take back first by turn two. From the third row of the grid, Reynolds zoomed up to second position with Winterbottom also nipping by Whincup. The young Kiwi promptly built a healthy margin over Reynolds.
Apart from Reynolds, Heimgartner's main rivals were Jack Le Brocq, Winterbottom, Todd Hazelwood, and Scott Pye. The group were all on a similar all-soft tyre strategy, but none of them could match the Kiwi's pace in the early running. Heimgartner and Reynolds pitted together on lap 13, with Heimgartner resuming right in front of Le Brocq. Having stopped earlier than Heimgartner, Le Brocq was able to get by at turn four on his up-to-temperature tyres.
Le Brocq pulled a manageable gap on Heimgartner in short time, hovering between half a second and eight tenths of a second. Conversely, Hazelwood was staging a similar challenge on Winterbottom for the last step of the podium; getting the pass done on lap 22.
A grand-stand finish began to form, with Heimgartner slowly reeling in Le Brocq in the final laps, with Reynolds and Hazelwood catching them both. Initially Reynolds looked to be the most threatening driver in the leading trio; latching onto the back of Heimgartner with five laps to go. But, the gaps were ebbing and flowing. With three laps to go, the leading four were effectively nose-to-tail.
A tense finish was guaranteed, with three of the top four having never won a race in the series before. A vulnerable opening half of the lap for Heimgartner allowed Le Brocq enough breathing room to survive, and crimped the dice for third between Reynolds and Hazelwood. Reynolds rubbed the rear of Heimgartner at turn six, which gave Hazelwood the momentum to go down the inside of the 2017 Bathurst champ at turn seven to claim his first podium finish.
Pye took fourth over Winterbottom (his result under investigation following an incident in pit-lane with his air-jack controller), rookie Bryce Fullwood, Whincup, Mostert, and Zane Goddard in 10th. Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin wound up finishing 12th and 14th, respectively, on their weakest tyre sets.