CONTRASTING mixed weather conditions contributed to two unpredictable days of tough street racing on the streets of Surfers Paradise, leaving five drivers in with a shot at winning a hard-fought 2017 Supercars Championship.
A perfect pit stop strategy by his Shell V-Power Racing Team allowed Scott McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat to sensationally win the second part of a dramatic Gold Coast 600 yesterday, putting the young Kiwi right back in the fight for this year’s crown.
McLaughlin and Premat started from 13th position on the grid, which is now the furthest back any driver has ever started from to win a race at the GC600.
“Oh my god, this is so good after [the disaster of] Bathurst,” a jubilant McLaughlin exclaimed after he and Premat turned their tough Saturday into a triumphal Sunday.
Six-time champion Jamie Whincup was left frustrated that he and Paul Dumbrell were forced to accept second after leading until the second round of pit stops.
A shock move by the Shell camp to call in McLaughlin a few laps early paid handsome dividends when the #17 Ford jumped from fourth to first for the run home.
While rivals and commentators speculated whether McLaughlin had the fuel to get to the finish, his team sounded confident. This optimism was not misplaced, the 24-year-old taking a famous win by 1.4 secs from Whincup.
Whincup tried to sound positive as he assumed the championship lead for the first time this year.
“It’s all good. Happy with the result, but, hey, pace and being a bit more aggressive on strategy…yeah they deserve the win,” Whincup said after beating his Triple Eight teammates Shane van Gisbergen and Craig Lowndes to the chequer.
The mixed-up Gold Coast results have set up an intense five-driver fight with four races remaining. The tenacious Whincup has a hardly comfortable 17-point margin ahead of McLaughlin’s Shell V-Power teammate Fabian Coulthard, who fought back from a poor qualifying performance to finish ninth.
McLaughlin is just 27 points behind Whincup. Chaz Mostert, who brilliantly won in the rain on Saturday and took seventh on Sunday, is also in the hunt for his first championship along with Van Gisbergen. Just 189 points separates the top five.
McLaughlin had to push his car down pit lane after it ran out of fuel during his victory burnout.
“I don’t mind pushing my car if it’s pushing it into victory lane,” McLaughlin said, before complimenting his co-driver. "Alex Premat drove an unbelievable drive in the first stint. He set us up.”
Mostert and co-driver Steve Owen claimed the Enduro Cup for 2017.
It was a tale of two very different days, weatherwise.
On Saturday, Mostert put his Falcon on pole and along with Owen, mastered the dreadful track conditions to win the opening 300km race of the weekend in a performance that put the Queenslander right back into championship contention.
The pair overcame the treacherously wet track and an early setback when Owen was turned around by Jamie Wincup’s co-driver Paul Dumbrell on lap 29.
His Prodrive Racing teammate, Cam Waters, steered his Monster Energy Falcon to second place alongside co-driver Richie Stanaway.
Tim Slade secured his first podium finish of the year by claiming third after his co-driver Andre Heimgartner set up a strong result for Freightliner Holden by pushing through the spray to the lead in the first stint. Heimgartner, a late replacement for the injured Ash Walsh at the Bathurst 1000, has done his future prospects no harm at all.
Slade and Heimgartner should have finished higher in the results but for a piece of misfortune in the pits when the car’s in-built jack dropped into a hole on the pit apron, costing the team precious seconds.
Whincup started from second but finished sixth on Saturday after Dumbrell incurred a 15-second time penalty for bunting Owen into a spin.
Both Shell team Fords struggled in the wet and finished well back. Sunday’s sunshine brought them back into contention.
The next event on the calendar is the ITM Auckland SuperSprint to be held from November 3-5 at Pukekohe Park Raceway near Auckland.
MotoGP: Marquez extends championship lead after winning stunner at Phillip Island
Marc Marquez’s flighty romance with Phillip Island Raceway firmed into a rosy love affair yesterday when the Spanish daredevil saw off his rivals to win a breathtaking 2017 Australian Grand Prix, taking victory after a lengthy battle involving a tight-knit pack of eight riders.
It was his sixth win of 2017, moving him closer to collecting his fourth MotoGP world championship.
He can wrap it up next weekend in Malaysia after his main title rival, Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, battled to 13th place at the Island, his worst result of the year.
What was a tight 11-point advantage going to Phillip Island has blown out to 33 points with only Sepang and Valencia left to fight for.
Marquez certainly didn’t have an easy afternoon on his Honda, a manic eight-rider scrap developing for the podium slots, until only five laps from the end, when the Honda man was able to edge away.
The pole-winning Spaniard was mugged heading into into the first corner by fast-starting Australian Jack Miller, chasing glory at his home grand prix. Returning to racing just three weeks after breaking his right tibia in a training oopsy, Miller got the fans excited when he led for the opening laps until overtaken by Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) on lap five.
The nine-time world champion then held the lead for four laps, before Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), pushed to the front. The rookie stayed at the head of the pack for five laps, before the lead returned to Rossi, then went the way of Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) and then finally to Marquez, in what was a titanic battle between the heavies of MotoGP. Five riders led the race at some point, before Marquez asserted himself at the business end.
Miller finished an impressive seventh, less than five seconds back from Marquez.
Marquez crossed the line 1.7 seconds ahead of Yamaha’s venerable superstar Valentino Rossi, who charged from seventh on the grid to pinch second from teammate Maverick Vinales.
Marquez’s joy went into overdrive when he realised he had extended his points gap over Dovizioso, who qualified back in 11th place but dropped to the back when he ran wide in the first turn. There was no coming back from that setback. Marquez’s victory celebrations were matched by Rossi, clearly thrilled to power through from back in the pack to second.
KTM had a history-making day in Moto2 to take its first ever win in the category with Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo) crossing the line three seconds ahead of his closest rival, teammate Brad Binder, who also took his first ever podium in the intermediate class.
Joan Gold Coast 600Mir (Leopard Racing) clinched the 2017 Moto3 World Champion after another victory - his ninth from 16 races.