Two races, two 1-2 finishes – Supercars events don’t get a lot better than Townsville for Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen, but they weren’t the biggest story in their own garage …
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
Seems like Supercars (well, Supercars quinellas) are like buses after all. You wait all season for a 1-2, and then you get two of them come along at once … That was the good news for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team in Townsville last weekend, with Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen taking a win each, and annexing the top two steps on the podium for races 17 and 18 of the season.
The one downside, if you could call it that, was that series leader Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) finished third in both 70-lap races, meaning J-Dub and SVG could only each take 30 points out of the Ford driver’s series lead with 13 races remaining. Still, van Gisbergen (131 points adrift) is now within a race win of top spot, while Whincup (403 points behind and fourth overall behind Erebus Penrite Racing’s David Reynolds) left far north Queensland in a far better place than when he arrived. Like we said, good news, and more good news.
If the results over the weekend had a similar feel to them – RBHRT cars well on top in both races – the races themselves reflected one another too, Whincup enjoying a big lead on Saturday until a late-race safety car 15 laps from home for debris on track compressed the field, and SVG having the same happen to him on Sunday with just eight laps left, when Michael Caruso (Drive Racing) and Anton De Pasquale (Erebus Penrite Racing) had quite the coming-together at the Turn 11 hairpin.
Not ideal, but no problem: Whincup was able to scamper away from van Gisbergen on Saturday to win pulling up by a little over two seconds in a race where he led by as many as 15, and SVG resisting some sterner pressure from J-Dub on Sunday to win by just under a second.
Almost as pleasing as the wins themselves were how they were earned, or more specifically, where they were earned from. Qualifying pace for both RBHRT cars had been elusive for much of the season before Townsville, but Whincup (second on the grid in both races) and SVG (third on Saturday before taking his fifth pole of the year in Sunday’s Shootout) got themselves in prime starting spots, and delivered from there.
Saturday’s win for Whincup was his 10th on the Townsville streets, some record when you consider Supercars has been coming to the city for 10 years – and afterwards, there was no watering-down what had been a dominant performance the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. After he passed McLaughlin for the lead at the first corner on lap two, he simply checked out.
“(Race engineer David) Cauchi and (data engineer) Romy (Mayer) gave me a rocket today, which is fantastic,” he beamed after his third victory of the season.
“The lead was just pure pace, our car was hooked up really well, Cauchi and Romy did an awesome job with the set-up and we were fast. To win races you need a fast race car, we had that and we maximised it.”
Fast-forward 24 hours later, and while Whincup was stoked with another 1-2 for the team, he felt any chance of a back-to-back winning weekend was squandered when he made a start he conservatively described as “poor”, dropping from second to fourth and having to fight his way back through.
“Throughout the middle (of the race), the tyres were OK but I had to go long due to the start,” he said.
“But all in all, I couldn’t be happier. We’re not getting carried away, it’s one round. If we qualify well across four or five rounds then we can genuinely say we’re making ground.
“I’ve stopped looking at the championship points, the next few rounds are important – I’m a fair way behind and it’ll be a long shot. I’m a long way back, but certainly a chance.”
Not such a long way back is SVG, who was pleased the team, for one weekend at least, solved its qualifying conundrums and translated the pace that has been lurking in the new ZB Commodore all season into repeat results.
“Two 1-2 finishes for the team this weekend … I can’t thank the guys enough for giving us good cars,” he said after Sunday’s victory, his third of 2018 and first since winning both legs of the season-opening Adelaide 500.
“We had a huge improvement in qualifying this weekend, so hopefully we can carry that momentum on to future events. My car was awesome; any time you improve your lap time from qualifying to the Shootout is good, I’m really happy.
“It was a Red Bull Holden battle after the safety car and we were both pushing really hard, but I came out ahead which was awesome.”
It’s not often you have two 1-2 results and still not be the biggest story in your own team over a race weekend, but Whincup and Van Gisbergen wouldn’t have minded ceding the Supercars spotlight to Triple Eight stablemate Craig Lowndes, who announced in Townsville that season 2018 will be his last as a full-time driver after 21 years in the main game.
‘Lowndesy’ never managed to win at the circuit in 10 years of trying, but was a strong fourth in both races behind McLaughlin on what was an emotional and draining weekend, leaving Townsville in fifth place in the standings to ensure all three T8 cars stayed inside the top five.
After a weekend of dominance, it’s a shame the team has to wait 12 months before tackling Townsville again – but the next round might be the next-best thing, the team’s test track at Queensland Raceway playing host to races 19 and 20 of the series on July 20-22.