THE explosive title-deciding race that cost Scott McLaughlin the 2017 Australian Supercars Championship – and won it for Jamie Whincup – has been raked over, dissected and analysed tens of thousands of times in the past week on that regularly brutal arena known generically as “social media”.
Facebook and Twitter gives everyone a voice – some measured and thoughtful, others biased and some clearly defamatory and ignorant of many facts.
We saw it all a week ago.
The barbs flew maliciously on the evening of the controversial race and cranked up further on Monday and Tuesday, many questioning the validity of the three penalties that ruined what had appeared to be an easy drive to the title for McLaughlin.
It wasn’t just fans throwing in their tuppence worth either. Past star drivers including the HDT’s Charlie O’Brien fired in an opinion, suggesting it wasn’t a great day for motorsport.
With growing annoyance, prominent Melbourne radio man Tony Schibeci watched the barrage on Facebook, including suggestions the race was fixed, before firing back with his very reasoned responses: “Oh guys please. You can’t be serious. That was the most amazing race ever. The drama for 90 laps had everyone sitting on the edge on their seat. How can you rig that. If he [McLaughlin] speeds he speeds, he took Simona De Silvestro out and he moved on Craig Lowndes. Believe me no one wanted Scott to win more than me but to say it’s rigged…please. So we might as well say the AFL rigged the grand final so Tiger Army can grow to 100,000. Jamie had to win Scott has to finish 11th. He didn’t. Learn from it and move on.”
The mainly ill-informed social media brawling finally encouraged the driving standards advisor for Supercars, Craig Baird, to throw some further light on the decisions made by stewards during the race.
Baird, widely respected in the Supercars paddock, specifically commented publicly on the three title-turning penalties that cost his fellow countryman McLaughlin his first crown.
McLaughlin looked to be in charge of the race until the first round of pit stops when he was penalised for exceeding the pit-lane speed on entry.
Later, he clumsily spun de Silvestro as he made his way back through the field, and then at a safety car restart was involved in an incident that damaged his Ford. Finally he was caught up in a last lap fender bender that put Lowndes into the wall.
Baird is adamant the three penalties given to McLaughlin were unambiguously clear-cut.
The pit lane speeding penalty has been questioned by those who insist than the closely following Shane van Gisbergen – Whincup’s teammate – should also have been penalised.
Baird has explained that the technology is accurate and fair, every car’s transponder triggering two timing loops – one at the entry and another three metres further along. “It’s time and distance.” McLaughlin hadn’t slowed down enough at the entry even though he started to slow down earlier than van Gisbergen.
The De Silvestro incident and resultant penalty has never been in dispute, except in the minds of some blinkered supporters. “She left a gap,” screamed some.
Sorry, but McLaughlin admitted fault.
Despite the two penalties that put him back in the pack, the young Kiwi was still very much in the championship picture. All he needed to do was finish 11th or better.
Even after after tangling with Garth Tander, Scott Pye and Jason Bright at a late safety car restart, McLaughlin made a successful pass on James Moffat to get to 11th and into a championship-winning spot, but with the energised Lowndes right on his tail with fresher rubber with a lap to go.
Baird has made the same observation that many have made, suggesting that McLaughlin needed to hold his line and make a good exit from the crucial turn.
But he ran wide and Lowndes pounced as McLaughlin tried desperately to cover for his mistake. Too late.
“You can’t go hard left into a car with any sort of overlap.”
Baird says there is a rule in racing that if there is an overlap – be it half a car or half an inch – a driver cannot continue to defend his position.
Baird also defended the call to make an instant decision and not deal with the incident post-race. “It was black and white. There was an overlap and it caused the crash.”
McLaughlin seemed to agree with the third penalty, as much as it must have hurt. He called Lowndes afterwards and apologised.
Dealing with the incident so quickly did avert a potentially messy scenario of having the championship in limbo until later that evening. Or for even weeks afterwards…
Though Jamie Whincup prevented a second consecutive championship falling to a New Zealander, the series will have five Kiwis lining up in 2018 with the announcement that Andre Heimgartner will return to the grid, replacing the retiring Todd Kelly at Nissan. The signing t marks a return to full-time Supercars competition for Heimgartner, who contested the 2015 and ’16 seasons with Super Black Racing and Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport. The 22-year-old seized his chance to impress when he accepted a late call up during the Bathurst 1000 weekend by Brad Jones Racing to replace the injured Ash Walsh.
Shane van Gisbergen, Scott McLaughlin, Fabian Coulthard and to-be-confirmed Richie Stanaway are the others.