How good was that second Sydney Supercars series round?

Seriously. How good was the second – Winton replacing – round of the new-look, rescheduled, etc, etc, 2020 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship round at Sydney Motorsport Park?

Three different races and three different winners? And the battle for a podium place in the third and final race which involved eventual winner Jack Le Brocq, fastest qualifier Andre Heimgartner, Todd Hazelwood and David Reynolds?

Stunning. Simply stunning.

True, the circumstance could hardly have been weirder. The venue had only just hosted the popular Australasian racing series’ re-opening (supposedly) post-Lockdown round over the June 27-28 weekend.

But it was pressed back into service at short notice thanks to the major COVID-19 flare-ups in Melbourne (and by definition all of Victoria, the state which was to have hosted the second of the new-look series rounds at Winton).

I definitely don’t think it is just me either who found it odd watching another ‘no-spectator’ round. While a lack of fans lining the circuit or packing out the stands is something, I am used to either competing in or working at events here, there is just something about the Supercars series and crowds.

Marauding Ford vs Holden ‘tribes’ might well be a thing of the past. However, there is still a thriving ‘team vs team’ culture your archetypal Aussie fan buys into.

And I’d imagine that at the next two rounds at Darwin (over consecutive weekends starting on Aug 08 & 09) then first Queensland round – at Townsville in the far north of the state on Aug 29 & 30 – where, for the moment anyway, Ticketek is still offering tickets for sale, I’m thinking the local turnout will be supplemented by a large influx of those allowed to fly in from points further south or west.

That said, I’d also imagine that right now Series CEO Sean Seamer and his management team are watching – with a mix of equal parts horror and resignation – as a second wave of COVID-19 cases lays waste to large swathes of Melbournite – their city still scheduled to host the sixth round of the re-jigged 2020 series – at the historic Sandown International Raceway – in mid-September!

But back to Eastern Cr… (sorry, Sydney Motorsport Park), where with a choice of tyre – between a soft for grip and a harder one for longevity – and the first race of the weekend under lights, certainly mixed things up.

Speaking strictly personally here I would have been just as happy if -as in the first two qualifying sessions – the battle for the top spot – had been between the Shell V-Power Ford Mustang of Scott McLaughlin and the Red Bull Holden Commodore of fellow Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen.

I love sitting in front of the TV (or more and more these day’s it seems) a laptop screen and watching the in-car footage of both, for instance.

Scott McLaughlin

In Scott’s case for the precision and absolutely clinical way he and engineer Ludo Lacroix seem to be able to set the #17 DJR Team Penske Ford Mustang up to exactly what Scott wants it to do – no matter what the condition of the track or tyre combo he might be running.

And in Shane’s case…..just to watch him grab that Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore by the scruff of neck and extract a time out of it no matter what the car/track/tyre etc conditions are like.

In saying that I mean no disrespect either to team engineering supremo Mark Dutton or the engineer who works with Shane on the #97 Holden Commodore, Grant McPherson.

Shane Van Gisbergen

Rather, having been privileged to witness Shane at work behind everything from the handlebars of a finickity short-fused Yamaha YF-Z race quad bike, to the steering wheels of – let’s see – a Quarter Midget at Western Springs, a kart at Mt Wellie and Auckland, Formula Ford and TRS single-singles at circuits throughout New Zealand, a wild high horsepower drift car at Taupo. and ultimately V8 Supercars here and across the Tasman, I’m of the opinion that he is one of only a handful of individuals on the planet at the moment who can drive the way he does – on the absolute edge of available traction – lap after lap without what for the rest of us mere mortals out there would be an inevitable lapse in concentration and what’s known in (hushed tones) in racing circles as ‘the big one.’

It’s the difference, if you like, between art and science and it’s what makes our current crop of world-beaters such a potent force. Like Scott McLaughlin, I’d place Nick Cassidy – say – and Marcus Armstrong on the science side of the ledger.

Liam Lawson though? While he’s closer to the median line between the two than fellow south Aucklander Van Gisbergen, there’s definitely the flare, if not quite the temperament of an artist at work when Lawson is behind the wheel.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the ‘return bout’ of Supercars series action at Sydney Motorsport Park this past weekend was that circumstance conspired to ‘give some of the other blokes a go,’ namely our own ‘fourth man’ Andre Heimgartner, as well as true blue Aussies, Jack Le Brocq, and Todd Hazelwood.

In saying that Shane McLaughlin still ‘won’ the round overall, from the increasingly impressive (IMHO anyway) Nick Percat, the other regular Kiwi front-runner, Fabian Coulthard in the second Team DJR Penske Ford Mustang, and……Shane Van Gisbergen!

Because all four have bene around long enough to understand that it is points that win championships each played a percentage game, Coulthard being particularly adept, seeing as how, unlike McLaughlin and Percat he didn’t have a race win to anchor his score.

What he did have was tenacity and persistence, his 7-2-13 results card earning him the final step (if there actually was one these days) on the ‘round’ podium.’

Because, bizarre as it might seem, the overall ‘winner’ of each round has not been officially acknowledged, apparently, since (way) back in 2009, Supercars preferring, supposedly, to acknowledge the winner(s) on a race by race – rather than overall round – basis.

While I can understand why you would want to make a fuss about who qualified quickest for each race, I’ve got to side with former series champ Mark Skaife in agreeing that it is time that the ‘old way’ was brought back.

Nick Percat, winner of Race 2

“(While) It was great to see three young blokes (Le Brocq, Heimgartner and Hazelwood) on the podium at the end, but when the biggest (TV) audience is captured on a Sunday afternoon, I want to know who ‘won the weekend,’’ said Skaife that night.

As do I. Though to be fair with Shane winning the series title in 2016, then – after Jamie Whincup’s lucky break in 2017 – Scott McLaughlin going on to claim back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 and leaving Sydney on Sunday night with a 107 point buffer on Whincup in the 202 s0eries points standings….it hasn’t been too hard to guess..

Of course, if the world ever sorts out the unholy mess that has been COVID-19 and international travel is back on the agenda, Scott Thomas McLaughlin has bigger fish to fry – namely in the IndyCar Series in the USA where there a car awaits his arrival, courtesy the Penske operation.

Should he commit to that path he is going to leave some very big racing boots to fill in the local Supercar derby.

Still racing wouldn’t be racing if there weren’t any number of potential young fellas (as well as the odd fella-ess, eh Madeline?) lining up to see if the shoe indeed fits.

Andre Heimgartner

Talent, obviously, will get them most of the way. As it has our own Andre Heimgartner, who claimed pole position for the final race of the weekend at Sydney Motorsport… (pah!) ‘The Creek on Sunday.

So will opportunity, which by taking advantage of the cards as they fell his way, earned Jack Le Brocq the win over Heimgartner in the race.

If there is one thing that stands Scott Mclaughlin apart from any other driver of my acquaintance, however, it is his hunger and desire to always do the best possible job in the circumstances.

You don’t for instance, become the undisputed ‘King’ of the Armor All-backed qualifying competition without a certain kind of ‘need’.

Though (again, IMHO) the best example was McLaughlin’s final last corner-through-to-the-finish-line-lunge on James Courtney for the final podium spot in the first of the two races on Sunday.

That he didn’t need to put his all into the move was obvious. Yet he did – the gap as the pair crossed the finish line just 00:00.0247ths of a second.

Scott McLaughlin beats James Courtney to the line in Race 2

That’s the sort of marker any driver would be proud of – Scott in particular, because as he prepares to take the next – BIG – step in his career it is as sure a sign as any that his work here is done.

And that it is time to pass the baton – in this neck of the woods anyway – to someone else!

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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