NEWCASTLE, New South Wales - The final day of the season started with a pressure relief of sorts for Scott McLaughlin, with the news that Shane van Gisbergen had been given a penalty for a pit stop infringement in Saturday’s race, that dropped him down the order and gifted McLaughlin a 53-point lead heading into the Race 31 decider.
McLaughlin qualified a strong second, alongside pole-sitter David Reynolds. It was a solid start for McLaughlin, slotting into second, one position ahead of Van Gisbergen for the opening laps of the race. McLaughlin’s teammate Fabian Coulthard settled into 10th place.
McLaughlin sat in second across the opening stint, one-second behind David Reynolds, with Van Gisbergen half-a-second further back. Coulthard took his first stop on lap seven, returning to track in 23rd place.
The gaps stayed steady until, on lap 19, Jamie Whincup pushed Coulthard into the Turn 12 wall which caused a Safety Car period. McLaughlin entered pitlane during the SC and returned as the effective race leader in front of Reynolds and van Gisbergen.
Coulthard lost his rear wing in the crash and returned to the garage for repairs. He rolled back out onto the track three laps down. The race restarted on lap 22, with McLaughlin leading Reynolds and Whincup in third.
Through a long middle stint McLaughlin maintained good pace, with the gap out to 3.1s on lap 40 over Reynolds in second. Whincup remained third and van Gisbergen fifth.
Coulthard continued to circulate, multiple laps down on the leaders in 25th position.
The gap at the front had expanded to 3.8s on lap 42, and four-seconds by lap 44, where it remained for several laps. McLaughlin took his second stop on lap 51, fuel and tyres to run to the flag. He rejoined in fourth, and effective leader once more with Reynolds behind. Whincup took service one lap later, rejoining in effective third. Van Gisbergen sat in effective fourth.
With a long run to the flag, engineer Ludo Lacroix coached McLaughlin to look after his tyres and manage the gap. On lap 60 McLaughlin assumed the lead as Lowndes took his second stop. He had a 1.8s gap to Reynolds, with Whincup third and van Gisbergen fifth.
Coulthard stopped for fuel and tyres on lap 70, still more than three laps down after his earlier incident. He remained 25th.
McLaughlin maintained a 1.5s gap through lap 75, with Reynolds second and Whincup 14s back in third, while Coulthard returned to the garage on lap 77. He would return to circuit with three laps remaining, to be classified as a finisher.
With 10 laps remaining, McLaughlin was just under a second in front of Reynolds, 16s in front of Whincup. McLaughlin let Reynolds by with five laps to go, only needing to finish in front of Van Gisbergen to win the championship
McLaughlin crossed the line second, to secure his first championship victory and the 17th and final championship victory for the Ford Falcon.
It caps an incredible year for Team Penske worldwide, with victories in the Indy 500, NASCAR Cup Series, Brickyard 400 and the team’s 34th National Championship. Roger Penske himself describes it as “Probably the greatest year for the team, ever.”
“Firstly, massive congrats to Scotty and the team on getting the championship win. It’s been a huge effort from everyone to get it done, and I’m proud to be a part of this team. We had a front-running car both days this weekend, but when there is a championship on the line you have to play the team game. I knew that coming into this weekend, we needed to be fast and be a nuisance and I think we achieved that. Yesterday was good for Scotty, we were able to create that gap and drop him into that gap with no dramas which set him up nicely for today. For me, there’s positives to come out of the weekend. We were fast on this street circuit, so I’m really looking forward to going to Adelaide 2019 in the Mustang. It’s been one of the tougher years I’ve had, but the light at the end of the tunnel is very bright and I’m looking forward to coming back and giving it a red hot go.”
“I’m so relieved! Last year was just a massive kick in the guts, and I feel like we built all year to come back and turn that negative into a positive. I’m so proud to get this done for everyone at Shell V-Power Racing. It means everything. I never dreamt of being a Formula 1 driver, I dreamt of having my name on this trophy, and now I’ve got that done. It’s a pretty emotional day for me and my family. I promised my Gran that I would do this before she passed away, so to do it is really special. It’s been a pressure cooker of a year, and I’m just so bloody proud to finish it. It’s a massive weight off the shoulders. There are some amazing names on this trophy, and to have my name on that trophy is incredible. Taking DJR Team Penske’s first Supercars Championship is a surreal moment.”