Winner! Scott McLaughlin claims 2nd Supercars title at dramatic Sandown 500
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Red Bull Holden Racing Team drivers Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander looked set to have rebounded perfectly from a back-row starting position in today's Penrite Oils Sandown 500, but a late right-rear suspension issue while leading by over 10 seconds denied the Kiwi victory and a second PIRTEK Enduro Cup crown.
This left Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes at the front as clear-cut winners of both the race and the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, with Chaz Mostert/James Moffat and Lee Holdsworth/Thomas Randle completing the podium at the end of a dramatic race. Behind them, Scott McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat finished an innocuous ninth after a difficult day headlined by news earlier in the day of penalties prompted an engine breach at Bathurst.
But, that ninth-place finish was enough for McLaughlin to seal the 2019 series championship with one race weekend in hand. It's the first time a New Zealander has claimed back-to-back championship wins in the series, and puts McLaughlin with the likes of Marcos Ambrose and Glenn Seton. The title remains provisional ahead of the series finale at Newcastle, but the 541-point gap between he and van Gisbergen remains insurmountable.
The opening portion of the race was extremely chaotic, with a number of surprise drivers putting in star drives as others got themselves involved in chaos and carnage.
Lowndes blasted off from pole position convincingly, with Bryce Fullwood hanging with him for a time in Andre Heimgartner's Nissan. Behind them, the order was rarely static. Stalled starts from Alex Davison, Tony D'Alberto, and Will Brown forced everyone to take evasive action off the line, with surprise young guns Jake Kostecki and Jack Smith making the most of it to climb to fourth and sixth.
While Smith eventually faded, Kostecki retained a spot in the top four for the balance of his opening stint in the wildcard Boost Mobile Holden. The Dunlop Super2 driver would however be involved in some of the incidents in following laps.
First he had a minor clash with Luke Youlden while snatching third place at the end of the back straight. Then, later on, he made wheel-to-wheel contact with Michael Caruso; sending the Monster Energy Tickford Mustang into the concrete wall at the exit of turn four. Neither incident triggered a penalty.
Others to get sucked into the chopping and changing were the co-drivers to Kiwis Heimgartner and McLaughlin. Both were issued 15-second penalties for pit-lane infringements; Fullwood for speeding in pit lane and Alex Premat for being dropped from his air-jacks prematurely in the team's second stop.
However, these were all dwarfed by an early crash involving Richard Muscat (GRM Holden), Dale Wood (Kelly Racing Nissan), and the recovering Youlden [video below].
After a poor run out of turn four for Muscat, Wood tried to get around his outside with a mild overlap. Thinking the same, Youlden tried to make it three wide only for space to run out and contact to initiate. This sent Wood into a high-speed spin on the back straight, with Youlden caught by the spinning Castrol car and tipped into the wall. This prompted the only safety car of the first half of the 500km race.
The middle phase of the race was much more conventional. Following Tander's exceptional opening stint van Gisbergen was seemingly the only genuine rival for teammate Whincup, who had faultlessly continued Lowndes' early race dominance.
Whincup looked to be the man to beat as the final stops approached, but late traffic and a shorter fuel fill saw van Gisbergen take over the race lead on lap 138 of 161, with seven seconds in hand. Behind them Mostert sat third, over 30 seconds behind the leader. Lee Holdsworth, having sat in third for quite some time, was fourth ahead of Coulthard (who had recovered nicely from the start-line stall and an early spin), Scott Pye, James Courtney, Will Davison, Heimgartner, and Anton de Pasquale filled the top 10.
With the freshest tyres of anyone on track, van Gisbergen's only issues between him and the win seemingly being traffic or any possible safety cars. There were also lingering claims that he was overheating inside his car, but those were allayed by van Gisbergen's strong pace.
But, in the dying laps, the race had one final plot twist. Van Gisbergen's right-rear suspension suddenly had a unique failure, with the wheel jamming itself at near full compression. This sent the car into a permanent squat, with the tyre carving itself away on the guard as it rubbed. The team left van Gisbergen out for two laps, before deciding to bring him in on concerns of safety. The stop put him a lap down, and dropped him down to 18th position.
This left Whincup to scamper home for his fifth Sandown 500 win (as well as Lowndes' sixth). For Lowndes, it's his sixth. Behind them, Holdsworth's result is his first podium finish since joining Tickford Racing (and since 2014). Likewise, it's co-driver Randle's first podium finish in his debut season in Supercars.
Coulthard/D'Alberto and Pye/Luff finished fourth and fifth, with Davison making a pass on Courtney late in the race to steal sixth. Heimgartner/Fullwood ended up eighth after a day cruelled by a pit-lane penalty, with McLaughlin/Premat and de Pasquale/Will Brown completing the top 10. In the end van Gisbergen and Tander salvaged 17th.
2019 Penrite Oils Sandown 500, results (provisional)
1. Jamie Whincup/Craig Lowndes
2. Chaz Mostert/James Moffat
3. Lee Holdsowrth/Thomas Randle
4. Fabian Coulthard/Tony D'Alberto
5. Scott Pye/Warren Luff
6. Will Davison/Alex Davison
7. James Courtney/Jack Perkins
8. Andre Heimgartner/Bryuce Fullwood
9. Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat
10. Anton de Pasquale/Will Brown
11. Nick Percat/Tim Blanchard
12. Mark Winterbottom/Steven Richards
13. Tim Slade/Ash Walsh
14. Richie Stanaway/Chris Pither
15. Simona de Silvestro/Alex Rullo
16. Brodie Kostecki/Jake Kostecki
17. Shane van Gisbergen/Garth Tander
18. Macauley Jones/Dean Canto
19. Jack Le Brocq/Jonathon Webb
20. Todd Hazelwood/Jack Smith
21. Cameron Waters/Michael Caruso
22. Rick Kelly/Dale Wood
DNF. James Golding/Richard Muscat
DNF. Garry Jacobson/Dean Fiore
DNF. David Reynolds/Luke Youlden