Supercars leader extends advantage
SCOTT McLaughlin has stamped his authority over the Supercars Championship standings with an emphatic sixth win of the 2017 season in Race 15 at the Coates Hire Ipswich SuperSprint.
McLaughlin fought past a fast-starting and early-stopping Craig Lowndes twice to take the lead, running away from the field to beat Chaz Mostert home by 3.2 seconds, while Shane van Gisbergen used a late final pit stop to pinch third place from Tim Slade on the final lap.
While Dick Johnson and his No.17 are synonymous with success at Lakeside Raceway, McLaughlin's victory is just the second time the team's storied number has raced to victory at Queensland Raceway.
"It's a bit of a dream come true to win (with No.17 here)," McLaughlin said.
"At the signing sessions today and a few other things, there's so much support. We had our Team Mates night on Wednesday and it was crazy, there was a lot of people. Thanks to everyone on the hill, it's been an amazing day. Hopefully we can build on it tomorrow."
Lowndes out-dragged the pole-sitting Falcon to the first corner and led the early stages, before McLaughlin stormed past into the lead.
The Supercars veteran soon made his pit stop, using his fresher tyres to vault back past McLaughlin, but was only able to resist the Shell Falcon for another lap before it again moved ahead.
Lowndes would slip further down the field as he struggled for grip in the closing stages, but his fifth place finish is nonetheless one of his best of the season so far.
Slade looked a potential threat for victory mid-race, charging past Mostert after the pit stops and pursuing McLaughlin, but only came within 1.5 seconds of the race leader before his tyres began to fade. A tiny mistake at the final corner allowed Mostert through to second.
Van Gisbergen opted for the opposite strategy to Lowndes. The No.97 was one of the last cars to make its compulsory pit stop and the fresher tyres allowed him to cut a swathe through the field.
Returning to the track in eighth, he soon ran down Mark Winterbottom and Rick Kelly, before sneaking past Lowndes off the final corner.
He caught Slade on the final lap after analysing the Freightliner Holden during his chase.
"I could see where he was very weak," SVG explained.
"That was into turn three, he kept losing the rear. I knew into (turn) four would be the biggest shot, and he covered - but I just went there anyway.
"This track's not exciting to drive but the racing is always awesome. I hope we put on a good show for everyone."
Fabian Coulthard took sixth place after a similar strategy to van Gisbergen allowed him to make up places in the closing stages, while Nick Percat, Kelly, Winterbottom and David Reynolds rounded out the top 10.
The name missing so far from this report? Jamie Whincup. The Townsville race winner endured his worst race of the 2017 championship so far.
A poor qualifying left him ninth on the grid, which became 14th after he was levied a five-place penalty for contact with James Moffat in pit lane late in qualifying.
An air jack problem on his early first pit stop consigned him to a distant 20th place finish, unable to pass wildcard Nissan racer Jack Le Brocq.
"We didn't have the pace to come back through because we stopped so early," Whincup lamented. "What could go wrong did go wrong today.
"We'll regroup and come back tomorrow but we lost a lot of points today. We've ground it out for three months and got some good points but we pretty much blew it all today."
McLaughlin's championship advantage blows out from six to 111 points after Whincup's disastrous day, with Coulthard in third 206 points behind and Van Gisbergen fourth place, 252 points in arrears of the points lead.