RED Bull Holden’s Jamie Whincup heads to the final round of the 2017 Supercars Championship just 30 points ahead of and Shell V-Power Racing’s young charger Scott McLaughlin with the two races of the Newcastle 500 set to decide the champion for this year.
Five drivers were in with a title shot before two incident-packed races at the classic old-style Pukekohe Raceway near Auckland. But only Whincup, already a six-times champ, and McLaughlin, 2017’s greedy pole grabber (14 so far), are genuinely now in contention.
Whincup has not had an easy season but is coming on strong at the business end.
In New Zealand, he had to settle for fourth on Saturday as teammate Shane van Gisbergen snuck a win after a lucky result with one of the three safety car interventions.
Sunday’s gritty victory was only Whincup’s third race win of 2017 but he was faultless on the day after claiming a brilliant pole position from McLaughlin.
Whincup made a great start from the slippery side of the bumpy Pukekohe circuit and hung on the narrowest of advantages over his Ford rival through the mandatory pit stops, winning by 5.9secs.
A bizarre mistake from defending Supercars champion van Gisbergen left his title chances in a disarray after he raced into the pitlane entry way too hot and delivered a bruising ‘Liberace’ to the back of Tim Slade’s Brad Jones Racing Commodore, wrecking the nose of the Red Bull Holden.
SVG did return to the track after the team bandaged up his car and he took a few points from a 24th place finish, helping out Red Bull in the teams’ championship.
Chaz Mostert is out of the championship fight, too, after being on the wrong end of a rash opening lap overtaking move from Prodrive teammate Cameron Waters. Mostert and the third Prodrive Ford of Mark Winterbottom were turned around in the shunt, dropping to the back. Waters was barely affected, and continued to run hard to take third at the end of the 70 laps.
Mostert was left to rue what might have been, making the most of a pacy Falcon to charge back to seventh by the race’s end.
Out of title calculations, too, is Fabian Coulthard, whose Saturday race ended upside down after he clipped David Reynolds’ Erebus Holden, sending both into the barriers. A fifth on Sunday couldn’t drag him back into the title action.
Whincup, who started yesterday’s race from his 75th career pole, was also awarded the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy for best overall results of the weekend in New Zealand. He also claimed that crown in 2015 and yesterday emotionally received the trophy from Richards’ parents.
“Wow, I didn’t realise that. I was teammates with JR, first podium with him back in 2005, so it’s always very, very special,” Whincup said.
After taking third in front of Whincup on Saturday despite a smoky engine, McLaughlin needed to back off towards the end of Sunday’s race as he was running into fuel use issues. “I’m pretty gutted … we risked a lot there and we had to save a lot of fuel at the end because I was on fumes,” McLaughlin said.
So now there are just two…
Though it was a dominant weekend for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, Whincup suggested the title race was level pegging despite his 30-point margin over McLaughlin. “It’s all going to come down to what job we do in three weeks’ time,” he said.
Supercars’ most successful driver says he can’t wait to see what the new Newcastle track has in store as he chases a seventh Supercars Championship. The 2.6-kilometre street course near the ocean in NSW’s second-largest city is to be used for the first time, and will decide this year’s title.
“’I’m as hungry as I’ve ever been,” Whincup said.
Many variables are in the mix and need to be tracked and measured by the teams; tyre life, suspension set up, fuel consumption and so on.
“It’s on for Newcastle,” said McLaughin. “We’re in contention and we’re going to try and bring home that championship cup. You couldn’t ask for a better script for that final race.”
WEC: Toyota takes the Six Hours of Shanghai
Though title rival Toyota took victory in the penultimate race of the 2017 World Endurance Championship, Porsche clinched both the FIA WEC drivers' and manufacturers' crowns, ensuring it departs the series on a high at the end of the season.
Timo Bernhard, Brendon Hartley and Earl Bamber went into the Six Hours of Shanghai knowing they needed only a third-place finish to wrap up the drivers' title in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid.
They couldn’t stay with the winning #8 Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima, Sebastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson, but the Porsche #2 nevertheless took second, one lap off the lead. Good enough.
Toyota goes to the final race of 2017 in Bahrain on November 18 level with Porsche on four wins each. However, both title battles are over, with Porsche and its three drivers confirmed as world champions.
Troubles for the for the sister Toyota TS050 Hybrid of Mike Conway, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez cost the Japanese brand any chance of keeping the manufacturers' fight open until the final race of the year.
The #7 machine had been narrowly leading the #8 car heading into the last half an hour, setting up a one-two Toyota result that would have stymied Porsche’s hopes of landing both titles in China.
Contact between Lopez and a slower Porsche punctured a tyre and damaged the suspension on the leading Toyota, meaning a painful pit stop.
Getting one of its cars into second place assured Porsche of the manufacturers' crown.
Taking the last place on the podium after a race in which the Toyotas enjoyed a speed advantage was the #1 Porsche of Neel Jani, Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy.