Supercars are back: What we learnt after its anticipated return

Night racing returns and put on a show at Sydney Motorsport Park. Image: Supercars

Supercars are finally back after an extended break and boy did they deliver. After soaking in all of the action, all the emotion and all of the Coca-Cola I was drinking at the time, it is time to take stock of what actually happened. Here is what we learnt after Round Eight of the Supercars Championship.

Racing is back!!

It was a gap of 96 days between the fall of the checkered flag in Townsville and the start of Friday practice at Sydney Motorsport Park. It was agonising to be honest to have had to wait that long but it was just so good to see cars on track battling, especially under lights.

Both Supercars and teams did a wonderful job in making the racing at night look awesome, which is important given what is in store for next Saturday and Sunday. There is just something about those bright headlights blazing around the track lap after lap, and is something that I think we could have more of in the future.

While it was clear that overtaking was still a big challenge around the Western Sydney facility, there was still plenty of action. While there was lots of close racing throughout the three races, this was especially the case at the start of the final race on Sunday afternoon, where cars were five, yes, five-wide. I was out of my seat at that point and I was very surprised that not a single driver ended their race with sparks, concrete and sadness. That is a credit to the huge talent that we have in the entire grid.

Anton De Pasquale was (almost) perfect

Anton De Pasquale had a great weekend overall. If you take away the tyre error in race two (when Dick Johnson Racing accidentally put one of Davison’s tyres on De Pasquale’s car which resulted in an exclusion from race two), Depasquale was on the ball.

He was fastest in both practice sessions, fastest in all the qualifying sessions, fastest in the Shootout on Saturday and then scored two victories. De Pasquale was leaps and bounds in front of the field, and no one could get close to the Shell V-Power Mustang.

Not only was he fastest, but De Pasquale broke the record for the biggest margin from pole to second in the history of the circuit, after being 0.6565 in front of teammate Will Davison in qualifying for race two. Given that we will be racing at the exact same circuit for the next three weeks, I would expect a few more poles and wins for the #11 Shell Ford.

On the other side of the garage, it was a big hard luck story for Davison. The #17 Shell Mustang suffered a mid-race electrical drama in race two while leading by a fair margin. Davison lost the lead to Shane van Gisbergen in the pitlane after having to power cycle his car during his pitstop, and would go onto finish second.

This was even more painful given that it has been five years (and 145 races) since his last victory in Supercars. That last victory came in the 2016 Bathurst 1000 when he was behind the wheel of the Tekno Autosports Commodore. When he does win though, it will be a long time coming.

Erebus are rapid

Possibly the surprise of the round were just how fast both Erebus Commodores were. Brodie Kostecki in the freshly painted Boost Mobile #99 car earned a hard earned 3rd place in race one, while Will Brown in the WD-40 #9 Commodore qualified on the front row twice and scored his first ever podium (2nd) in race three. It had been a while coming and the elation was clearly visible. Wins are on the way for this fantastic young driver.

Where on earth were Tickford?

While Erebus were up near the front, Tickford simply did not have any pace for most of the weekend. After coming into the round third in points, Cameron Waters scored only one top ten all weekend (6th in the final race), while claiming two 13th placings in the first two races of the weekend.

Waters now lies fifth in the championship standings and will be looking to improve his Monster Mustang. The other Tickford cars with Courtney and LeBrocq also struggled, scoring bests of 8th and 12th respectively.

The Championship Outlook

There are only four rounds left, three in Sydney and then the finale at Bathurst. The big question is – can anybody stop Shane van Gisbergen? It would appear not likely.

Van Gisbergen raced to the front for each race, scoring a win, a 2nd and a 4th. In doing so, he extended his championship lead to 338 points over teammate Jamie Whincup. No driver has ever lost a championship after leading by more than 300 points, and means that the Red Bull driver is now a round clear of any competitor. While you can never be certain in sport, it wouldn’t be surprising if van Gisbergen headed to Bathurst as champion-elect.

What is yet to be settled however is who will take 2nd and 3rd in the standings. Jamie Whincup is currently sitting pretty with 2nd, 125 points in front of Will Davison. Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters sit only 33 and 65 points behind Davison respectively, so while first looks settled, the remaining positions are still up for grabs.

Championship standings with four rounds remaining. Image: Supercars

Mark Winterbottom joins the 550+ Club

On a personal note, my favourite driver when I was a kid was Mark Winterbottom. Way back in 2007, he was the pilot of the #5 Orrcon Ford Performance Racing Ford Falcon and I remember seeing that car, seeing the beautiful blue livery and thinking, that’s my car. It did help that I am a Ford guy through and through. That car started my love for the sport, and fast forward 14 years, my driver is still racing his heart out.

Me with Winterbottom’s 2013 Pepsi Max Falcon at the 2013 Test Day at Sydney Motorsport Park.

While he is no longer behind the wheel of a Ford, the 2015 Supercars Champion is still racing on and in the final race of this weekend, the driver also known as Frosty joined an exclusive club.

Winterbottom is now only the sixth driver in history to achieve 550 race starts, only behind Craig Lowndes (673), Garth Tander (640), Russell Ingall (588), Rick Kelly (580) and Jason Bright (577).

Here’s to many races to come and thanks for the memories.

Round Nine of the Supercars Championship resumes next weekend with a night race on the Saturday night and two races on the Sunday.

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