Shane van Gisbergen delivered what may prove to be a pivotal result in his battle for Supercars Championship honours with a brilliantly executed victory in the Saturday night under-lights Sydney Motorsport Park round.
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore driver was aided in his quest for victory by the fortuitous appearance of the Safety Car, which cut back what had appeared to be an unassailable lead for the DJR Team Penske Falcon of Scott McLaughlin.
With his former comfortable lead buffer ripped away, championship leader McLaughlin soon faced a challenge from his Holden rival as the Falcon’s tyres began to deteriorate under the pressure van Gisbergen was applying. Once van Gisbergen was through, McLaughlin was unable to counter attack.
“It took a long time for the race to come alive and then the safety car came out,” van Gisbergen said afterwards. “After that Scotty drove really well and defended incredibly well. I gave him a few bumps but he wasn’t fazed. I was enjoying the battle until I got through.”
McLaughlin ended up succumbing to Jamie Whincup to fall to an eventual third place, leaving Red Bull Holden Racing Team to celebrate a one-two result.
“I tried so hard to keep them behind,” McLaughlin said. “Great strategy call by them. Sorry to the Ford fans I couldn’t get it done. We had a great car, great team, great pit stops, great strategy but the safety car just came out at the wrong time.
“Still, it was a good points day and I really enjoyed it under lights.”
Earlier, before the Safety Car interruption, it looked as though the race might come down to a fight between McLaughlin and Craig Lowndes, offering the potential for a fairy tale result for Lowndes in what is his final year as a full-time driver, 22 years after he won in his very first championship race start at this same venue, and also under lights at night. In the end Lowndes had to be satisfied with a solid fourth place.
“That safety car didn’t come to us at the right time,” Lowndes said. “We had a good gap and we were trying to manage that but that safety car bunched everyone up.”
The first Supercars championship night race held in Australia in 21 years was an overwhelming hit with fans, with a crowd in excess of 30,000 braving the wintry conditions at Eastern Creek across the two days.
McLaughlin maintains a championship lead of 89 points over van Gisbergen as they head to the new Tailem Bend circuit in South Australia in two weeks.