Dominant! Shane van Gisbergen wins wild Pukekohe Supercars opener
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Red Bull's Shane van Gisbergen has won the opening Supercars race of the ITM Auckland SuperSprint, leading home teammate Jamie Whincup and Cameron Waters. Although Whincup later inherited a 15-second time penalty.
It's the third time in as many years that van Gisbergen has won the opening race of the weekend on home soil, and provisionally helps him rise up to second in the championship chase behind Scott McLaughlin.
McLaughlin by contrast had a relatively quiet race, eventually finishing fifth behind David Reynolds. The points leader wasn't able to benefit from a race of split strategies that, at one point, was led by his teammate Fabian Coulthard.
"I was a bit worried there in the middle, and at the start we had all the Fords. Man, this place, all the support here just makes me lift, as you know," said van Gisbergen.
"Just come here and it's just an awesome feeling to have so many Kiwi fans. Glad we could get one, hopefully again tomorrow.
"It was such a good day, the boys have been working hard. Aero changes seemed to have made a difference but whatever. It's great to finally get a win and especially at home."
Van Gisbergen had taken pole for the race earlier in the day, with the Shell V-Power Racing duo of McLaughlin and Coulthard having to settle for a third-row lock-out behind a raft of Tickford Racing Mustangs.
The 2016 champ won the start and then led the field (headed by Waters and Chaz Mostert) until an early safety car shuffled the field significantly. Mark Winterbottom's car stopped on track with a mystery failure on lap 14, handing a free kick to the cars that had made early first pit-stops.
By the time that the field had used the safety-car period to make their first stops and the dust settled, Coulthard led Anton de Pasquale, Jamie Whincup, and André Heimgartner. Van Gisbergen had dropped to fifth, but still retained his early race pace.
Although, it was Whincup who was first to rise. He got by De Pasquale in quick time (Heimgartner following suit), then chased down Coulthard — eventually getting by at turn four when Coulthard ran wide. The six-time champion's other issue in the background was an incident in the early moments with Nick Percat. The Brad Jones Racing pilot spun, and a post-race investigation into the clash was subsequently confirmed. Following the race, officials confirmed a 15-second time penalty for Whincup.
The next flurry of stops kicked off at the race's halfway point, and was led by the likes of De Pasquale and Heimgartner.
Two battles between teammates punctuated the middle phase of the race; one between Tickford's Mostert and Waters and van Gisbergen's squabble with Whincup. The first one ended up coming to blows at the end of the back straight following a mistake at turn one from Mostert that closed the gap, and an ambitious piece of braking from Waters at turn five that saw both drivers go off into the grass. Mostert's car took on damage in the melee, forcing him to pit.
Van Gisbergen and Whincup meanwhile battled over what eventually became first place. The Kiwi, having stopped later than Whincup by virtue of the earlier differences in strategy, ended up rejoining the track right in front of his Red Bull stablemate. But unlike the Tickford duo, no paint was traded. They raced close for a couple of laps — Whincup loading up a dive at the hairpin before thinking better of it — until van Gisbergen extended the margin.
By the time the second wave of stops had been completed, van Gisbergen emerged in the lead over Whincup. Davison held third after Waters had let him by, so that he could deal with a 15-second time penalty for speeding in pit lane. Reynolds was fifth, ahead of McLaughlin. Coulthard had been in front of the series leader, but a wide moment under brakes at the end of the back straight sent him through the grass and down to eighth place behind Lee Holdsworth.
Over the last 10 laps, van Gisbergen's grip on the race appeared assured. His lead to Whincup was approaching five seconds, with Whincup's lead to Davison another five seconds. And that's how the order remained at the end of 70 laps.
Van Gisbergen ended up taking the chequered flag with 2.3 seconds up his sleeve — Whincup having slowly eroded his lead over the final laps. Waters was another 10 seconds behind in third, which became second when Whincup's 15-second penalty was factored in.
Whincups 15-second penalty and Davison's 15-second penalty dropped them to sixth and ninth position respectively. Davison ended up landing one spot ahead of Richie Stanaway. The Kiwi recovered from his Friday wall-tap on the front straight with his second solo top-10 finish (the first having come at Winton Raceway last year).
Evidently, all five Kiwis ended up finishing in the top 10. Coulthard evidently finished two spots behind McLaughlin, with Heimgartner finishing another spot back in eighth.
Supercars competition resumes tomorrow with qualifying for race 24 taking place at 11.20am. A top-10 shootout follows at 1.40pm, with the 70-lap race capping off the day at 4.10pm.
Results: ITM Auckland SuperSprint results
1. Shane van Gisbergen
2. Cameron Waters
3. David Reynolds
4. Scott McLaughlin
5. Lee Holdsworth
6. Jamie Whincup
7. Fabian Coulthard
8. André Heimgartner
9. Will Davison
10. Richie Stanaway
11. Tim Slade
12. Nick percat
13. Scott Pye
14. Todd Hazelwood
15. Anton De Pasquale
16. Simona De Silvestro
17. James Courtney
18. Garry Jacobson
19. Rick Kelly
20. Macauley Jones
21. Jack Le Brocq
22. Mark Winterbottom
23. James Golding
24. Chaz Mostert