With the penultimate round of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship held over the weekend, we take a look at what happened and what it means heading into the finale at Bathurst.
The weekend’s racing took place on the shorter West circuit, posing a new set of challenges for teams, while eliminating the tyre dramas that plagued the last round, also held at The Bend.
However, it turned out to be another weekend of mechanical and pit lane dramas.
Championship leader Scott McLaughlin came home with two race wins and a second, enough to clinch the crucial 300-point championship buffer heading to Bathurst, effectively giving him a third consecutive driver’s title.
We had both Fabian Coulthard and David Reynolds failing to finish Race 29 with both cars stopping on track, on lap 22.
Coulthard suffered a drive-line failure while sitting second to teammate Scott McLaughlin.
Reynolds continued his difficult run, suffering a transaxle failure, in what was an otherwise mediocre weekend for the Erebus driver collecting a 16th and 17th in the other two races.
Team championship contender Triple Eight has also continued their run of turbulent weekends.
Race 28 started well for the team with both cars near the top of the field before the team suffered another pit stop issue.
Jamie Whincup collected the air hose ripping the tyre gun from the tyre changers hand, which in turn resulted in a slow pit stop and post-race penalties – a fine of $1,500 AUD and 30-points docked from the team’s championship.
Sunday’s two races looked better for Whincup collecting a seventh and a third, while teammate Shane Van Gisbergen struggled in qualifying.
Starting near the rear of the pack in both races, he climbed back through the field to twice finish fifth, an incredible fightback gaining 17 places in a 31-lap race.
The team’s turbulent performance in the last few rounds hasn’t given them the momentum or confidence leading into Bathurst they would have liked.
One of the biggest variables heading into Bathurst could well be the pit stops.
Since the season restart, refuelling has not taken place, just mandatory tyre changes due to the limit on team members allowed at each round.
Given the pit stop issues some teams have faced recently, they may well become an issue during the seasons longest race where each car will stop at least seven times.
Though it must be said, refueling typically takes longer than a tyre stop giving the crew time to complete the tyre change. The pressure on teams doing to do a tyre change alone could be contributing to some of the issues seen this season.
The two-tyre pitstops, teams have been undertaking through the last few rounds, take around 3-3.5 seconds while refuelling time will vary depending on the fuel load. Generally, this covers the time it takes to change tyres taking some pressure off the tyre changers.
Let’s take a look at how the championship battle has unfolded this year.
Scott McLaughlin has started from pole position in nearly 60% of the races this season, coming home with a win in half of the 26 completed races.
He has also broken a 22-year record, winning at least one race at every circuit so far this season, the first to do so since the series began running multiple races at each round.
Whincup has been on pole in 23% of the races with a 15% winning rate.
While McLaughlin was able to win more races than Whincup, what kept the battle tight till the end of the season?
Though McLaughlin has collected more race wins, Whincup has often followed him home on the podium keeping him close in the points standing.
Both have had their share of bad days this season, often in the same race. The smaller points difference between 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc has also helped keep the battle close.
Given the unusual way the season has played out, there are many unknowns heading into Bathurst which will only be answered once cars hit the track.