As the dust settled in Newcastle at the last round of the Supercars championship, it was a pretty good year for the New Zealanders.

Scott McLaughlin won his maiden Supercars championship, Chris Pither won his first Super2 championship and Tom Alexander finished third in the SuperUte series.

However, it was the almost season-long main game battle between McLaughlin and fellow Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen that had everyone on the edge of their seats.

Over the last few races, the points lead had seesawed between the two Kiwis, and heading into Newcastle, it couldn't have been much tighter, with McLaughlin just in front.


The season-long drama continued after Saturday's race, with van Gisbergen being hit with a penalty that stripped him of the weekend's first race win and opened the gap to 50-odd points.

Sunday's race saw the mettle of McLaughlin when he ignored the pressure and crossed the line second to clinch the 2018 championship title by 71 points from van Gisbergen.

The two Kiwis were dominant this year - third on the championship points list was defending champion Jamie Whincup, a whopping 511 points behind McLaughlin.

There's been some chatter this has been a "redemption" year for the 25-year-old. Rubbish. He had nothing to redeem. Sure, he missed out on winning the title last year and that was probably a good thing. Everybody loses at some stage, it's what you do about it later that counts.

This year saw the evolution of a quick driver into an extraordinary racer who made the best of just about every opportunity presented to him.

Motorsport fans saw the maturing of a driver who could win a few races, to a force to be reckoned with. This year, McLaughlin learned from being beaten at the last hurdle and used it as a source to better himself as a driver and person.

"I felt like we had a really consistent season and didn't drop a lap," he said. "We finished every race and took the fight to them [the whole field but Triple Eight in particular].

Scott McLaughlin leads Shane van Gisbergen at Newcastle last week. Photo / Getty Images
Scott McLaughlin leads Shane van Gisbergen at Newcastle last week. Photo / Getty Images

"When things weren't going right on our bad days, we'd still capitalise as much as we could and get a good fifth place.

"On our good days, when we needed to win the race, we did. That's what we did in New Zealand a couple of weeks back when we had to."

McLaughlin has been at pains all season to say it's a team effort first and foremost that gets him the poles and wins. Without the 42-odd folk in the garage on race day, back at the workshop and all the non-mechanical and engineering support crew, he says, it wouldn't have happened.

He's also particularly aware of the contribution teammate Fabian Coulthard made to his championship-winning season.

"I couldn't be more proud of the people in the team. The pit-stops all year were unreal. It was such a team effort. The best thing about our team is that everyone gets along. There's no back-stabbing, everyone is for each other and works together.

"All the #12 guys and all the #17 guys [car numbers] are all together. There's no two cars, it's all in and that's what you want to have as a team.

"Look, Fabian is unique. He certainly sacrificed a lot for me towards the end of the season, like the Gold Coast, to help me in the championship. What an unreal guy to have by your side," he said.

McLaughlin repaid the faith Roger Penske had in signing him to the fledging DJR Team Penske team by handing him another championship in what has been a stellar year for the American racing icon.

"It's very cool to have added to his Indy 500 win, the Brickyard 400 win, a Nascar championship, 500 race wins and now a Supercars' championship. It's very special.

"I didn't really get to see him much after Sunday's race, he had to take off. He's a very busy man and I'm just glad I got the win in front of him," he said.

The two protagonists in this year's title fight really only have one thing in common - they're both Kiwis.

This is not to say either's approach to racing, both on and off the track, is better than the other's. In fact, it's good for the sport that they are different, as race fans have a different place to hang their respective hats, and it makes the racing exciting to see who is going to outwit the other on track. They have different racing styles but are as quick as each other.

Shane Van Gisbergen with Scott McLaughlin. Photo / Getty Images
Shane Van Gisbergen with Scott McLaughlin. Photo / Getty Images

As Kiwis, we should celebrate their differences, as it keeps things interesting, unlike Formula One.

"It's been a great championship for both of us. We were 500 points ahead of third, so it's a proud moment [for New Zealanders] that we can take away from this year.

"We took it [championship] by the scruff of the neck. We learned a lot from each other and pushed each other right to the end - an absolute pressure cooker of a season.

"And don't forget [Kiwi Pither], it was good for my old team GRM to win their first championship and I know what it's like to win that series as well," said McLaughlin.

His team may well be an important part of his winning this year but you can't beat family as an important part in achieving your goals.

McLaughlin has a close relationship with his family, and dad Wayne in particular is pretty chuffed with his son's triumph.

"Scott this year is a different driver and his racing style has changed and he has really matured," said Wayne McLaughlin.

"It's all come together for him and the team this year, and at times, they all had to dig deep.

"They all learned from last year and they all stepped up together. I get annoyed when people put Fabian down, as I'm one of his biggest supporters. He's a mature guy who knows how important it is to work as a team.

"Scott had to fight hard all year against Shane [van Gisbergen]. He's a good, hard and fair driver, and DJR Team Penske won the championship fair and square.

"I've never seen Red Bull [Triple Eight] make so many mistakes in one season, whereas we stepped up.

"I remember telling Scott the night before the last race that he had to remember three things: one, you're the people's champion in New Zealand and Australia; No2 is that you're a talented driver and you can do this and put everything else behind you; and finally, what will be, will be."

Next year's championship will have to go some way to beat the drama and excitement of 2018.

What will make it interesting, though, is the introduction of the Mustang as the replacement for the Falcon. McLaughlin has already driven the new car and has given it the thumbs up.

If it is indeed as good as is projected, there could be a changing of the guard.

Seven-time champion Whincup was comprehensively beaten in 2018 - by his standards anyway - and Triple Eight were prone to many unforced and uncharacteristic errors this year, while DJR Team Penske and McLaughlin were almost faultless.

It would not be drawing too long a bow to suggest McLaughlin is well on his way to collecting numerous championships over the ensuing years.