NEWCASTLE, New South Wales, Australia — As championship rival Jamie Whincup stumbled on the first lap of Saturday’s Coates Hire Newcastle 500 race one, Scott McLaughlin capitalized on his rival’s misfortune to win and take the lead in the championship.
“I really wanted it bad,” McLaughlin said of the win. “I got a good start for once in my life and we were going okay, but the pit lane and it was a bit tight in places, but to get the first race after a pretty hard, full-on, yeah, it’s awesome.”
Scott McLaughlin helped his championship hopes by qualifying pole earlier in the day. The Shell V-Power Racing driver pushed hard late in the session for his fourteenth pole. Championship rival Jamie Whincup qualified fourth in his Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore.
McLaughlin got the jump on David Reynolds into Turn one. Whincup tried to dive down the inside of Michael Caruso, but caught the Nissan’s right rear and damaging the steering, hindering his championship chances.
Jason Bright, Taz Douglas, Dale Wood and Tim Blanchard piled up, bringing out the safety car. As the safety car came out, many drivers took the chance to pit, including McLaughlin and Shane Van Gisbergen. The race got back underway on lap six, with Tim Slade and Craig Lowndes leading from effective leaders Van Gisbergen, McLaughlin and Reynolds.
Whincup got back on track on lap 16. The Holden driver was 12 laps down on Slade. Slade opened up his lead to 2.3 seconds over Lowndes.
Van Gisbergen made a slight mistake on lap 25, nearly handing the effective lead to McLaughlin. The Red Bull Holden’s Dunlop Super Soft tires began to wear, and McLaughlin was looking to make a move.
The battle between Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin was getting intense, but McLaughlin was driving a measured race. James Courtney and Aaren Russell tangled on lap 34, with Russell’s car stuck. The safety car came out the next lap, and everyone hit the pits.
McLaughlin’s stop was a bit slow, allowing Van Gisbergen to get back in front of him
The race restarted on lap 38, with Cameron Waters leading Slade, Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin. Van Gisbergen was complaining about his car’s feel, saying it was “just horrible.”
Drivers took a third stop around lap 45, with Reynolds taking his on lap 49 and Van Gisbergen taking his on lap 50. Reynolds undercut Van Gisbergen with his stop, while McLaughlin hadn’t pitted yet.
McLaughlin closed in on Slade, but pitted on lap 53. Reynolds just got past McLaughlin, becoming the effective leader. Lowndes crab-crawled sideways into the pits after making contact at Turn 12 with broken rear suspension. The Vortex crew put new tires on, but Lowndes screamed at them to do more work on the car.
Reynolds and McLaughlin pulled a large gap of five seconds over Van Gisbergen. Slade and Lee Holdsworth had not pitted yet, leaving Reynolds and McLaughlin in third and fourth.
Slade pitted on lap 69, handing the lead to Holdsworth. Van Gisbergen forced his Holden by Slade, with Fabian Coulthard and Simona de Silvestro got by him as well, with de Silvestro driving well to avoid contact. Reynolds got loose coming out of Turn 11, handing him the effective lead.
Holdsworth pitted on lap 72, handing McLaughlin the lead. James Moffat slammed into the tires at Castrol Bend with help from Mark Winterbottom, bringing out the safety car on lap 73.
The race restarted on lap 78, with McLaughlin leading Reynolds, Van Gisbergen, Coulthard and de Silvestro. The race became timed, with 15 minutes remaining. There was a bit of argy-bargy at Turn 11, with Coulthard bumping Van Gisbergen. That checked up de Silvestro and Slade, who tipped the Swiss driver into the Turn 12 barriers, damaging the Nissan and ruining her afternoon.
Van Gisbergen turfed Reynolds into the Turn eight fence, damaging the Penrite Commodore and dropping Reynolds down to sixth. The incident was under investigation. Van Gisbergen and Slade bumped down the front straight. Van Gisbergen was given a 15-second penalty for the incident with Reynolds, dropping him effectively to 17th spot.
As the clock ticked down, McLaughlin was driving a metered, mature race up front. Coulthard was second, making a DJR Team Penske 1-2. Slade was third, having driven a steady race.
McLaughlin has a 57-point lead over Whincup with one race left with Saturday’s win. He said he still had a job to do on Sunday, but was ecstatic with the result.
“Long way to go, but yes, that was awesome,” he said. “I’m so pumped. Whatever happens tomorrow, we gave it our best shot.”
“It was a team 1-2 for Shell V-Power Racing. As good as it gets.”
1. Scott McLaughlin
2. Fabian Coulthard
3. Tim Slade
4. Lee Holdsworth
5. David Reynolds
6. Chaz Mostert
7. Scott Pye
8. Nick Percat
9. Will Davison
10. Rick Kelly