Motorsport: Whincup keeps lead

By Eric Thompson

Van Gisbergen strongest Kiwi driver at Darwin

The field streams through the hairpin at Hidden Valley, Darwin. Picture / Mark Horsburgh
The field streams through the hairpin at Hidden Valley, Darwin. Picture / Mark Horsburgh

The V8 Supercars championship remains wide open after the weekend's round in Darwin and we are approaching the halfway mark in the series. The bragging rights for the vaunted SkyCity Triple Crown remain unclaimed for the eighth year in a row.

After a chaotic weekend - which saw two big crashes - defending champion and series leader Jamie Whincup, teammate Craig Lowndes and FPR pilot Mark Winterbottom leave the Northern Territory with a winner's trophy each.

Whincup's win in the weekend's opening race means he remains at the top of the points table, albeit with a reduced margin. Winterbottom secured his first win in over a year, putting himself into contention for a title fight with eight rounds to go.

"It's good to actually get a trophy, get on the podium and hold it up," Winterbottom said. "It's good to get the stat, so hopefully this gets the monkey off the back and we have a bit of luck now on in."

Tekno Autosports driver Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen was the strongest New Zealand performer over the three races, finishing second, eighth and sixth to leapfrog fellow New Zealander Fabian Coulthard to move into fourth place in the championship.

Van Gisbergen was gifted second place in Saturday's race after Winterbottom and David Reynolds took each other out fighting for second and third place, leaving the door wide open for the Kiwi.

"Yes it was a Tekno 1-2 in race one, which was pretty good," Van Gisbergen said. "I'm reasonably happy with that. It was a good points haul this weekend and we can keep pushing from here."

Coulthard is only 19 points behind Van Gisbergen and rues not being able to convert his qualifying pace into podium finishes. He missed out on the top 10 shoot-out for the first time this year and finished 12th in the opening race.

The Lockwood Racing driver improved to seventh after qualifying fourth for race two, but could manage only a disappointing 13th in the final stoush on the day, which saw seven cars taken out on the opening lap.

The third New Zealander in the series had another tough weekend when things didn't go according to plan. Calling on all his patience and talent, the 20-year-old managed to salvage enough points from the weekend to remain 11th in the series.

Scott McLaughlin finished a solid 11th in race one after qualifying well and looked good for race two. However, he flat-spotted his hard tyres at the start of race two and had to battle the remaining 30 laps on soft tyres to come home in 27th.

He avoided the chaos at the start of race three to finish eighth, a sterling effort for the championship's youngest driver.

McLaughlin was the meat in the sandwich between Tim Slade and Jason Bright when Slade speared into the barriers and Bright spun into the grass.

The bulk of the carnage happened from the cars behind trying to avoid the incident, resulting in a red flag. However, the Kiwi escaped any major damage, and was able to restart.

"I lost my start page, the whole dash that shows throttle percentage. I was flying blind at the start," said McLaughlin. "I got a really bad start and that's what triggered it I think, because everyone swamped me. I was sandwiched the whole way around the turn and I honestly had no way to get out of it.

"I'm just sorry to everyone involved, really. It sucks for all the teams down pit lane to get so much damage, as well. It's that crazy because it's short races, everyone's trying to make up so many positions.

"I think that's probably a downside of having the short races, but it's good for the fans and that's probably the main thing.

"The car wasn't too bad, it was pretty bent the whole race so I just tried to limp home and to get eighth."

The championship moves to Townsville on July 5.

Points table

1. Jamie Whincup 1423

2. Craig Lowndes 1264

3. Will Davison 1148

4. Shane van Gisbergen 1127

5. Fabian Coulthard1108

6. Jason Bright 1101

7. Mark Winterbottom 1079

8. Garth Tander 1062

- NZ Herald

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