Sandown 500: McLaughlin top Kiwi as 'underdogs' reign supreme
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Scott McLaughlin will line up as the top Kiwi for tomorrow's Rabble.Club Sandown 500, after finishing third in the second qualifying 'sprint for the grid' 20-lap race.
McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat managed to rebound from a poor performance in initial qualifying to net the second-row starting position behind pole-sitters David Reynolds and Luke Youlden [pictured below], and the leading Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore of Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell.
Fabian Coulthard is the next best of the Kiwis in fourth, two spots ahead of André Heimgartner. Shane van Gisbergen and co-driver Earl Bamber narrowly missed out on a top-10 berth and will start from 11th, with Chris Pither and Richie Stanaway set to start 16th and 17th respectively.
The Sandown 500 format saw the grid roll out for a standard qualifying session. This set the grid for the first of two 'sprint for the grid' races — the first for co-drivers and the second for main drivers — with the net result at the end determining the grid order for tomorrow's 500km race.
The bulk of the chaos took place during the co-driver race, thanks to a strong but very brief hail storm that caused the field to adopt split strategies.
Dumbrell had led the race up to that point, and led a large group of cars into pit lane for wet tyres. It left Supercheap Ford co-driver James Moffat to take the lead over Macauley Jones, Heimgartner's co-driver Aaren Russell, and Youlden.
The group were navigating the harsh conditions soundly until they came to blows at turn four. The nose-to-tail incident saw Moffat spin out from first, and handed first and second to Russell and Youlden. The former [Russell, pictured below] went on to claim an emotional win, following a tough 2017 Supercars campaign and several seasons on the sidelines.
McLaughlin's co-driver Premat crossed the line third, ahead of Coulthard's co-driver Tony D'Alberto. The two Shell V-Power Racing cars had struggled through qualifying, but benefited from staying out on slick tyres in the wet. Arch rivals Red Bull, meanwhile, were pushed down the order thanks to their strategy choice; Dumbrell finishing 11th and Bamber 16th.
The recovery from both Red Bull cars was the talk of the second race. Whincup made an exceptional start, and marched all the way to second over the course of the race — a steely defense from Reynolds the only thing stopping him from taking the win and pole. Van Gisbergen meanwhile climbed to 11th — physical on-track scrapping with Triple Eight teammate Craig Lowndes impeded any further progress.
Starting from pole position by virtue of his co-driver's earlier performance, Heimgartner made a poor start after jumping early from his grid slot. He ended up getting muscled before settling for sixth behind Mark Winterbottom. Chaz Mostert, Tim Slade, Anton de Pasquale, and Lowndes rounded out the top 10.
Both mini races featured a safety car. The first was for the crashed Preston Hire Commodore of Jason Bright, who had spun into the front straight wall after contact from Warren Luff. Then in the second race James Courtney went off at the high speed turn six, grazing the tyre wall before beaching in the sand trap.
The Rabble.Club Sandown 500 kicks off at 3.20pm NZST tomorrow afternoon.
Sandown 500 starting grid (top 10)
1. David Reynolds/Luke Youlden
2. Jamie Whincup/Paul Dumbrell
3. Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat
4. Fabian Coulthard/Tony D'Alberto
5. Mark Winterbottom/Dean Canto
6. Andre Heimgartner/Aaren Russel
7. Chaz Mostert/James Moffat
8. Tim Slade/Ash Walsh
9. Anton De Pasquale/Will Brown
10. Craig Lowndes/Steve Richards