Photo: Supercars

Shane Van Gisbergen perfects strategy game to win Supercars opener

Shane Van Gisbergen kicked off the new era of Supercars by leading a Red Bull Ampol Racing one-two on the streets of Newcastle in a race where strategy played a crucial role.

The defending series champion started sixth on the grid after a mistake in the top 10 shootout but made good early progress to run third before the first round of pit-stops.

His Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 took on less fuel which allowed Van Gisbergen to hit the front and subsequently build a sufficient margin in the lead, which he maintained over team-mate Broc Feeney until the end.

Tickford Racing’s Cam Waters completed a strong start to his weekend by taking the final step on the podium in third, while polesitter Brodie Kostecki finished fifth.

Having produced a sensational lap in the top 10 shootout, Erebus Motorsport’s Kostecki made the most of the short run towards turn one to maintain his lead from Water into turn one.

Behind, Van Gisbergen made a strong start to launch two places to fourth as Tim Slade bogged down in front in the Nulon Racing Camaro.

Following a difficult qualifying, things got worse for Shell V Power Racing’s Anton De Pasquale, who was spun around by Todd Hazelwood’s CoolDrive Racing Chevy as the pair disputed real estate at turn eight on the second lap.

As the field settled into an early rhythm, Kostecki opened up a margin of over a second from Waters, who in turn fell into the clutches of both Red Bull Ampol Camaros of Feeney and Van Gisbergen.

Before long, Van Gisbergen – who had set the fastest lap after momentarily dropping off the back of the leading trio – snatched third place from his team-mate with a bold move down the inside of turn eight on the 13th of 95 laps.

That pass allowed Van Gisbergen to launch a concerted assault on Waters’ second place before the first round of pit-stops. The defending three-time champion failed to get ahead of the Mustang despite getting alongside and making slight contact with the Tickford driver at turn eight.

The lead gap ebbed and flowed as the top four remained nip and tuck, and Feeney was the first of the leaders to make his pit-stop on lap 28, two laps before Kostecki.

Feeney’s attempted undercut worked up to a point, in that he leapfrogged Kostecki who dropped three places to fourth.

Between Feeney and Kostecki’s stops, Waters and Van Gisbergen both took on less fuel. Waters maintained second place but Van Gisbergen cycled into the lead, which he subsequently increased over his second stint on lower fuel to over 12 seconds by the time he made his second stop.

The big winner at the second stops was Feeney, whose overfill at the first stop meant he took on two seconds worth less fuel than Waters in front of him. As Waters rejoined, Feeney just about had enough momentum out of turn one on warm tyres to take the place.

Despite seemingly underfilling at the first stop, Van Gisbergen managed to stay out six laps longer than Feeney and comfortably came back out ahead of his team-mate and Waters.

The Kiwi then extended his margin at the front of the field to 14.7 seconds at the finish.

Kostecki was unable to maintain his early form in which he led for the opening 30 laps. The Erebus Motorsport driver took on only marginally more fuel than Van Gisbergen – and less than Feeney – at the first stop but lost track position to the latter, which impacted his race.

He was then the first of the leaders to make his second stop and lacked the pace in the closing stages, eventually losing fourth to Walkinshaw Andretti United’s Chaz Mostert under braking for turn two.

Outside of the top five, Will Brown put in a sterling effort from 11th on the grid to finish sixth, one place behind his Erebus Motorsport team-mate Kostecki, with Brad Jones Racing’s Andre Heimgartner seventh.

Team 18 scored a healthy haul of points, with Mark Winterbottom heading team-mate Scott Pye – who narrowly avoided damage in the second stop after the Tickford Racing Mustang of Thomas Randle was released into the path of his car.

Randle’s Tickford team-mate James Courtney finished 10th.

The second Supercars race of the Newcastle weekend is scheduled to take place tomorrow at 15:20 local time (05:20 CET).