PUKEKOHE, New Zealand — After undercutting championship rival Scott McLaughlin on his second pit stop, Jamie Whincup roared home with a strong drive to win Sunday’s ITM Auckland SuperSprint to go into the final round with a slim points lead from McLaughlin.
“We needed that,” Whincup said. “Just trying to give ourselves an opportunity with this one. My mate beside (McLaughlin) is pretty quick, the guys have been digging deep to get the best out of our car.”
Shane Van Gisbergen won Saturday’s event, but got reprimanded by team manager Mark Dutton for damaging the rear of his car with his celebratory burnout. The Red Bull Holden team also had to check the engine, which was deemed fine for Sunday’s race.
The Shell V-Power crew did a magnificent job repairing Fabian Coulthard’s Falcon after his wild shunt on Saturday. As the team did not bring an extra roof panel, the team borrowed a roof from former Supercar driver Jason Bargwanna, who was racing in the New Zealand Touring Car series. Unfortunately, the roof wasn’t a perfect fit, but the inventive crew went down to a local junkyard and pulled a piece off of a wrecked Falcon to finish the roof.
Whincup won pole for Sunday’s race with McLaughlin second. Chaz Mostert and Mark Winterbottom were third and fourth, with Van Gisbergen seventh.
Whincup got the jump on McLaughlin, who closed the door on Mostert into Turn one. Chaos reigned at Turn eight, thanks to Prodrive Racing Australia, as Cameron Waters bumped Mark Winterbottom, who spun Mostert. James Courtney smashed into the back of one of the stricken Falcons, destroying his Mobil 1 HSV Commodore’s front end, as did Lee Holdsworth in the Preston Hire Commodore, while Dale Wood and Todd Kelly ran off the road and pitted to take on fuel and tires.
This created a gap between McLaughlin and the rest of the field, as Waters was 2.3 seconds behind McLaughlin in third. The incident was under investigation post-race by the stewards, but Mostert’s chances looked finished at that point, as he ran last. Van Gisbergen was also a championship outsider due to the incident, as the Red Bull Holden driver ran 10th.
The gap between Whincup and McLaughlin was now 1.4 seconds and growing, as was the gap between the leaders and Waters, which was now 4.2 seconds from Whincup to the Monster Energy Falcon driver.
McLaughlin pitted on lap nine, then Whincup pitted on lap 10. The undercut that McLaughlin tried to do didn’t work, as Whincup got out 1.5 seconds ahead of McLaughlin. James Moffat assumed the lead, and had a one-second lead over Tim Slade. Mostert pushed past Simona de Silvestro at Turn one for ninth, while Tim Slade assumed the lead during the pit stop shuffle.
Slade pitted on lap 16, but got rammed up the rear by Van Gisbergen on the way in as the Red Bull Holden locked up. The hood was smashed, as was the front end, pushing the airbox off the intake and turning the splitter backwards, while Slade’s car suffered no more than a bent left rear guard. This really put Van Gisbergen on the backfoot in terms of the championship, as the Kiwi sat in the garage in 24th place.
Simona de Silvestro pitted on lap 20 with a delaminated left-rear tire, handing the lead back to Whincup. The Red Bull Holden driver led McLaughlin by 1.35 seconds. The big winner of the pit stop shuffle was Garth Tander, who was up seven spots from his start and sat fourth.
Van Gisbergen’s crew worked feverishly to repair the stricken No. 97, getting it fixed in 15 minutes. Van Gisbergen was 13 laps down on Whincup, but kept his chances of points-scoring alive, as only cars that complete 75 percent of the distance score points. The gap between the leaders was 1.4 seconds on lap 32. Craig Lowndes got by Tander for fourth on lap 33, as the Wilson Security GRM driver let him by.
Whincup pitted on lap 34 to try to undercut McLaughlin, who now led. McLaughlin came in on lap 35, handing Waters the lead. The undercut worked, but it was close, as Whincup got McLaughlin right on pit exit, with the cars taking Turn one on a knife edge, and the gap was now under a half-second between the two.
Waters pitted on lap 40, and Winterbottom took the lead from de Silvestro by 2.3 seconds. Whincup and McLaughlin were third and fourth, 18 seconds behind. When Winterbottom pitted, De Silvestro took the lead by about 13 seconds over Whincup, but still had to pit. Winterbottom got a drive-through penalty for speeding in the pit lane.
Whincup was being held up by Aaren Russell slightly, allowing McLaughlin to close in on Whincup as he inherited the lead once again. Once Russell was dispatched, the fight could begin in earnest. Two drivers, 25 laps to go.
Whincup and McLaughlin were pushing their cars to the absolute limit, reeling off qualifying laps as they went. With 20 laps to go, the gap between the two was 0.8 seconds.
Whincup began to pull away from McLaughlin, and on lap 55, the gap was around two seconds. Whincup drove consistently, and gained time on McLaughlin.
Mostert was trying to get his championship hopes back on track, and was moving up the field steadily. He sat ninth behind Moffat by two-tenths with around 10 laps to go. He got by Moffat, then set after Jason Bright, three seconds up the road.
With five laps to go, Whincup led McLaughlin by 2.7 seconds. Whincup was totally in control, and he ran off the final five laps easily to win by 5.9 seconds. Mostert got Bright for seventh, and that dropped the points gap slightly, but it was still a big mountain to climb heading into the last meeting at Newcastle.
1. Jamie Whincup
2. Scott McLaughlin
3. Cameron Waters
4. Craig Lowndes
5. Fabian Coulthard
6. Garth Tander
7. Chaz Mostert
8. Jason Bright
9. James Moffat
10. Scott Pye