The man responsible for handing out the penalties that ruined Scott McLaughlin's Supercars finale and any chance he had of winning the championship has spoken out to set the record straight.
Respected veteran Kiwi racer Craig Baird is the driving standards advisor for Supercars. He has been heavily criticised by fans on social media this week for enforcing the rule book but has methodically explained why he handed out the penalties to McLaughlin and corrected some mistruths around how he came to a verdict.
McLaughlin was issued with a pit lane penalty for speeding in the lane during his first stop while leading Sunday's final race. He then turned around Simona de Silvestro as he made his way back through the field, was involved in an incident that damaged his Ford at a safety car re-start and was caught up in a last lap incident that saw Craig Lowndes crash into the wall.
Baird is confident the three penalties given to McLaughlin were black and white.
"He was in a position where he had to roll through Sunday," Baird told the Herald. "He had basically won the championship and no one thought [title rival Jamie Whincup] had any sort of chance of fighting back.
"The first thing he did, which put him in a vulnerable position for the rest of the race, was speeding in pit lane.
"People will say there is a volunteer on a radar gun, [Shane] van Gisbergen closed the gap etc – I will put the record straight. There is a very accurate timing loop – every car has a transponder fitted to it. On the deceleration side when they come in, where they speed is in the first metre or two metres. They hadn't slowed down quite enough when they crossed the line. There are two timing loops five metres apart – time and distance – it is black and white."
Baird is right – there can be no inaccuracy in that system. The reason van Gisbergen closed the gap is because McLaughlin started slowing before the Red Bull driver. It is the same when exiting the pits – a gap is opened up because the first car gets to accelerate slightly earlier than the second.
McLaughlin admitted fault in turning de Silvestro around and took his second penalty. He was lucky to still be in it at the end after tangling with Garth Tander, Scott Pye and Jason Bright at a late safety car re-start. With a damaged car McLaughlin made a pass on James Moffat to get to 11th and into a championship-winning spot with Lowndes right on his tail with a lap to go.
"All he had to do was go into turn one and get a good exit onto the straight to two but he over-shot the corner and, as a racing driver, when you make a mistake there is only one thing to do and that was to cover. If Lowndes got past that was the championship done so he had no option but you can't be wide at one and in recovery mode go hard left into a car with an over-lap.
"We don't care if there is no over-lap. But it doesn't matter if it is an inch or half a car length, if there is over-lap you are not allowed to continue to defend that position.
"The first thing we learn when we are racing go-karts is that you have to have a duty of car for your other competitors. Forget whether the wall jumped or not – they were both put in a position and it was of my opinion that they were on a part of the track that no-one had been on through the whole race. He over-defended, there was an overlap and it caused a crash. It was black and white – when I see footage of that I can make a decision there and then."
Baird was criticised, by this writer too admittedly, for not dealing with the last lap incident post-race, where there was time to look at more angles and consider all points. But, New Zealand's most successful racer in terms of championships, was certain of what he saw from the get-go.
"Sometimes I miss things, I am watching something else, I'll be getting replays from television, I need different angles etc – that one was simple," he said. "Scotty, deep down will know he did the wrong thing. He rang Craig Lowndes and apologised. He will be bitter about it and he will toss and turn as any one of us would do but deep down as a racer he knows you can't make a mistake, go into recovery mode and end up in a crash.
"There is no conspiracy theory or anything. I consider Scotty a mate, we have always got on, we talk and have respect and it is a bloody hard job to be a ref in the grand final when someone makes a mistake.
"Whether they are Kiwis, Ford supporters, Holden supporters or Australians they will have their own opinion of it. What I do as a ref – I get handed a race book – I play it with a straight bat. I don't make the rules – I get handed a book and the teams, drivers, the commission, the board, everyone is involved in making that book and everyone wants that book enforced until it bites them.
"If Scott was charging through the field on Tander or Moffat and one of those guys put Scott out of the race in the same circumstances – I bet you every Scott McLaughlin fan would shout and scream they took him out of a championship."