It proved one of the best races of the season for Kiwi drivers, with three drivers in the top 10 led by a podium performance from Fabian Coulthard in the first race of the Castrol EDGE Townsville 400.
The Volvo Racing crew make huge improvements for Scott McLaughlin to achieve a season-best fourth while Shane van Gisbergen, penalised for using the wrong tyres in qualifying, flew from last up to 10th.
The unlucky driver was Super Black Racing’s Andrew Heimgartner who lost several laps in the garage after he was hit early in the race.
The race was True-Blue with the Fords of Mark Winterbottom and Dave Reynolds finishing one-two, with Winterbottom extending his lead at the top of the championship and his second on around the streets of Townsville.
It was a nail-biting finish as Reynolds pushed hard in the closing stages, but the Darwin winner could not steal the victory from the Championship leader, who has extended his points lead out to 176.
‘Frosty’ was cautious of the circuit coming into the event because the street tracks have not proven his best but he turned that form around today sailing home 0.27 seconds ahead of Reynolds, and Freightliner Racing’s Fabian Coulthard.
Coulthard’s performance was also impressive, improving from eighth on the grid to the podium with speed and clever strategy.
The Freightliner Racing back-room boys short fuelled Coulthard on the first stop to give him clear air, and he was finishing faster than anyone to close up on Winterbottom and Reynolds.
The result sees Coulthard jump both Craig Lowndes and Chaz Mostert into second place in the championship behind Winterbottom, with van Gisbergen remaining in seventh and McLaughlin jumping six spots to 12th with the luckless Heimgartner in 24th.
“That was awesome,” Winterbottom said. “We pushed the tyre and there was nothing left at the end.
“To have a team one two was awesome… it’s a well earned one, it’s a tough race.”
The Bottle-O’s Reynolds had Coulthard looming in his mirrors in the final laps and while he was lowering the gap to Winterbottom, it just wasn’t enough.
“It wasn’t a bad drive, my car was performing pretty well,” he said, earning his second consecutive podium finish.
“I was trying to push him because Fabian was coming along and I was a bit scared… but a one-two is good for the team.”
It was a positive performance for McLaughlin, after his team had to make an engine change today and following their hard run in his Volvo this season – and Scott Pye with DJR Team Penske, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.
Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander climbed from 14th to seventh, finishing right behind his teammate James Courtney.
Jamie Whincup and van Gisbergen completed the top 10 with the second 200km race tomorrow.
Tickets are now on sale for the sole New Zealand round of the V8 Supercars Championships at the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway on 6-8 November through www.ticketek.co.nz.