Photo: Supercars

Scott McLaughlin makes it three from three in Melbourne opener

Scott McLaughlin has continued his perfect form at the start of the 2019 Supercars Championship season, taking a commanding lights-to-flag victory in the opening Melbourne 400 race of the weekend.

Leading home a DJR Team Penske 1-2, it was a good day for fans of the Blue Oval as the Mustang swept the top five positions.

McLaughlin jetted off the line from pole, giving himself some space ahead of team-mate Fabian Coulthard going in to the first turn. The pack got through cleanly as Tickford Racing’s Cam Waters matched the pace of the leading DJR Team Penske Mustangs early on.

The leading trio were assisted by Shane van Gisbergen in the early laps, the Triple Eight driver being the cork in the bottle for the pack behind him as Waters in front ran away to the tune of five seconds after the opening five laps.

After qualifying well down in 22nd position, Chaz Mostert was the big mover and shaker early on, working his way up the field in the opening half of the race to challenge for a top ten position.

On lap eight, 23Red Racing’s Will Davison had decided to get out of the SVG train, bailing out of the scrap for an early pit stop as he became the first of the leaders to come in for his compulsory tyre change. Triple Eight’s Jamie Whincup and Walkinshaw Andretti United’s James Courtney nearly had a replay moment of the pit lane debacle in Adelaide when the former’s car was released into the path of the latter.

Whincup wisely fanned the throttle and let Courtney by, opting to sacrifice one position as opposed to receiving a drive through penalty in the longest pit lane of the year.

Coulthard removed himself on lap ten, emerging just in front of Will Davison who was setting fast sectors on his new tyres but would have to make them last to lap 25.

McLaughlin came in from the lead on lap twelve, pulling Waters and Mostert (who had driven all the way up to fifth) in with him. While McLaughlin rejoined the race with a clear lead, Waters nearly lost a position to Davison on pit exit, locking up on the run to turn one and having to defend hard from his quasi-team-mate on cold tyres.

Hunting down those in front, Mostert started to set the fastest sector times of the race after his pit stop, punching in the fastest lap of the race on lap 14 in a very strong 10th position at the time.

The last of the stoppers, van Gisbergen came in to take off his worn Dunlops on lap 14, exiting the pit lane in front of Brad Jones Racing’s Tim Slade but the #14 car rounded up the #97 around the outside at turn two on warmer tyres.

Up front, McLaughlin held a comfortable two second lead over Coulthard who enjoyed a similar pleasure over Waters. Behind them, Davison was starting to feel the pressure as van Gisbergen ranged up on the #23 entry, the Kiwi making use of his new tyres to get past on lap 19.

Like van Gisbergen, Mostert was having a field day on new rubber, getting past Slade for 7th with a handful of laps left and setting his sights on Davison who was some three seconds ahead.

With only four laps remaining, van Gisbergen’s car died on the approach to turn one, giving up the ghost as soon as he got on the throttle thanks to an engine drama, undoing what was a strong second stint.

However, his retirement promoted Davison to fourth and Mostert to fifth, making it a Mustang lock-out in the top five with Mostert still ranging up on Davison to move up one more place in an impressive drive from 22nd on the grid.

At the end of the race, nothing could stop McLaughlin from taking his third win in a row, leading home another 1-2 finish for DJR Team Penske ahead of Tickford’s Waters.

The Mustang men were joined by Davison and Mostert in the top five, with the latter being told to bring the car home in one piece after what will be one of the strongest drives of the season.

Slade was the first of the Holdens home in sixth, having a lonely old race while Courtney behind him fought hard to keep Whincup at bay for seventh. Tickford’s Lee Holdsworth made it all Mustangs in the top ten with ninth while Erebus Motorsports’ David Reynolds completed the top ten.

After he was on track for a top five finish, van Gisbergen ended up as the only driver not classified due to the late DNF. He and Triple Eight will be looking to understand why the transaxle failure happened so suddenly before tomorrow’s races.

Post-race, McLaughlin sent a brief tribute out to his fans back in New Zealand after a terrorist attack in Christchurch today.

“Both me and Fabs are Kiwis, I’m from Christchurch originally and found out about the whole thing after qualifying,” McLaughlin said.
“It’s a bit of a shock to the system and even hearing the New Zealand national anthem tonight was special. Sending big love to them over there, it’s certainly a small town.”

Tomorrow’s first race and the 1000th in the history of the championship will go green at 12:50pm local time.