Scott McLaughlin extends Phillip Island hot streak, takes pole and win
Defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin has continued his dominating start to 2019, after taking out the opening 120km race of the round at Phillip Island.
The young Kiwi converted pole to a race victory, resetting the race lap record in the process and heading up another DJR Team Penske 1-2 finish for the year.
McLaughlin was clearly the fastest driver in qualifying, notching up his seventh straight pole position at Phillip Island with a lap of 1:29.2292.
Lining up alongside him on the grid was his DJR Team Penske team-mate Fabian Coulthard who ended the qualifying session over half a second down on the quickest lap but still two-tenths clear of Tickford Racing’s Chaz Mostert in third.
Kelly Racing’s Andre Heimgartner was able to propel the #7 Nissan Altima into fourth on the grid, just under a second down from the pole time and two spots ahead of team boss Rick Kelly while Will Davison sandwiched himself between the Altimas in his 23Red Mustang.
The big surprise was the lack of pace for Triple Eight Commodores with Shane van Gisbergen only managing ninth while his seven-time champion team-mate Jamie Whincup couldn’t get out of the first qualifying knockout session, ending up 17th on the grid.
An even jump off the line for the front row starters put the pair side by side into turn one, running away from the pack together as McLaughlin held the edge over Coulthard as they entered turn two.
Rick Kelly was the best of the starters behind, moving up to third from sixth on the grid and leading Heimgartner in the chase to the Mustangs in front. A few rows behind them, a slow getaway for Shane van Gisbergen dropped the championship contender out of the top ten.
McLaughlin, Kelly, Mostert and Davison hit the pit lane on lap six for their first stops, McLaughlin emerging with a clear margin ahead of the others who remained line astern leaving their boxes.
Coulthard came in to cover on the next lap with Heimgartner and Cam Waters following suit. McLaughlin held the effective race lead as Coulthard emerged from the pits behind him but Heimgartner was able to get out in front of Kelly, fighting hard over the next lap to hold the position on cold tyres.
The next tour saw van Gisbergen come in from the lead, returning to the track from his stop behind Davison but ahead of Waters, making a decent net gain compared to his woeful opening lap.
David Reynolds came in for his stop on lap nine, the Erebus team getting him back on track between the Nissans of Heimgartner and Kelly, promoting him well up the order from qualifying.
Before their pit stops, both James Courtney and Tim Slade had tyre failures going in to turn one at the same time, similar to the incidents of 2017. Courtney’s WAU Commodore had the front guard broken and Slade’s Brad Jones Racing machine had to limp home.
Whincup was on track to make up spots with his late stop but a bungled pit stop saw his right front wheel fail to be tightened, nearly dragging a team member with him out of the pit box. While he was told to slow down on the lap, the wheel departed at turn five, forcing Whincup to park up and retire.
Due to the debris on the track, the safety car was deployed on lap 14, neutralising the field after McLaughlin and Coulthard had opened up a large gap to the rest of the pack. While under safety car, DJR Team Penske was handed a points penalty due to the line-lock functions on both cars failing in their pit stops.
Racing resumed on lap 18, McLaughlin leading the pack to turn one as Coulthard, Heimgartner and Reynolds followed closely behind. Mark Winterbottom’s hard day continued, losing a wheel after already taking two stops in the race, pitting three times across the day.
A fierce battle between Kelly and Waters ended in tears for the Tickford driver as he made contact with Shane van Gisbergen at turn five. Waters drifted over to the exit of the corner while van Gisbergen occupied the space, tangling wheels and breaking the Mustang’s suspension, taking him out of eighth.
Up front, McLaughlin couldn’t be stopped, taking the win ahead of Coulthard and Heimgartner, making it an all-Kiwi podium and taking him race win tally at Phillip Island to five so far.
Heimgartner’s podium is the first for the Kiwi since 2017 with Tim Slade as a co-driver at the Gold Coast, simultaneously notching up his first as a solo driver in Nissan’s first trip to the top three this year.
Reynolds improved massively after qualifying outside of the top ten, improving to fourth at the race’s end after holding off Mostert towards the end. van Gisbergen made three spots up through the race, ending up in sixth while Kelly, Scott Pye, Nick Percat and Davison rounded up the ten.