Photo: Supercars

Scott McLaughlin extends championship lead with final race win in Melbourne

Scott McLaughlin provided the perfect recovery from a torrid Saturday evening, coming back to convert a front row start to race victory in the final race of the Melbourne 400.

The DJR Team Penske driver didn’t even make the grid for Saturday evening’s race after a clash with Tickford Racing’s Cam Waters on the way to the start, with both drivers having to sit it out while watching Waters’ team-mate Chaz Mostert take the honours.

While Mostert started from pole for the final race of the weekend, a tardy start left him vulnerable to McLaughlin’s Ford Mustang and Jamie Whincup’s Triple Eight Holden Commodore at the first turn, relegating him to third as his rivals moved in front.

The opening lap saw fifth placed Shane van Gisbergen left high and dry in his Triple Eight Holden by Will Davison from 23Red Racing at Turn 5, dropping back behind Team 18’s Mark Winterbottom and DJR Team Penske Ford’s Fabian Coulthard.

Van Gisbergen and Coulthard engaged in wheel-to-wheel combat for the next lap and a half, culminating in lock up for the Holden driver at Turn 13 which pushed Coulthard wide, forcing him to go down the escape road and lose a bunch of spots.

Van Gisbergen was later issued a 15 second penalty for his part in the scuffle, the penalty exaggerated by a safety car thanks to Macauley Jones ending up in the wall in yet another crash for the Brad Jones Racing #21 entry this year.

Contact between Jones and Kelly Racing Nissan driver Garry Jacobson spun the car into the inside wall between Turn 13 and 14, ending Jones’ race and bringing out the safety car for the last time of the round.

The delays meant the race would go to the time limit, with Waters looking like he’d be the biggest benefactor when the race restarted on lap six. McLaughlin and Mostert streaked away up ahead while Whincup struggled on cold tyres though still kept the hard-charging Waters behind him.

With the race shortened by two laps to run only 11 tours instead of 13, McLaughlin led a late charge from Mostert to take the race win while Whincup got up to pace late in the race to keep his podium finish.

McLaughlin’s win is his fifth from six races this year while Mostert’s second earned him the Larry Perkins Trophy for the round win. Finishing in third, Whincup now has 200 podium finishes, something no one has achieved in Supercars before.

After his penalty was applied, van Gisbergen was classified 21st, adding to his woes in one of his worst rounds in recent history. You have to look back to 2012 Homebush in his last race for Stone Brothers Racing to find the 2016 champion performing so poorly.

McLaughlin continues to lead the championship on 500 points, 31 clear of Jamie Whincup, with Mostert third, 63 points adrift.

A two-week break gives teams, and drivers, a chance to get their affairs in order before heading over Bass Strait to Tasmania for the Symmons Plains SuperSprint. The scene of a Triple Eight Commodore domination last year.