The Australian Supercars Championship returned to Sydney Motorsport Park, Australia for races 17 and 18 of the 2017 season. Spekture photographer Blake Curtis ventured out to see the racing unfold across a number of classes.
A bitterly cold and windy weekend didn’t deter the race fans from turning out in droves to see their favourite drivers, teams, and marques fight it out over the two-day event. The Sydney event typically differs from other races in the championship with practice, qualifying and a sprint race held daily over the Saturday and Sunday, ensuring the cars spend plenty of time on track to provide some fierce on-track action.
In recent years, the Triple 8 Red Bull Racing Australia team has dominated the Sydney event with drivers Jamie Whincup and 2016 Champion Shane Van Gisbergen winning last years races. the 2017 season has seen the resurgence of the DJR Team Penske cars of Shane McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard. Their recent performances throughout the season so far ensured that the qualifying and race events would be hotly contested.
Sunshine greeted the field as they took to the track on Saturday morning, however, the gusty conditions made it difficult for many teams and drivers to find a balanced setup. Scott McLaughlin put the number 12, Shell V Power Ford Falcon on pole position with Pro Drive Racing Australia’s Mark Winterbottom second, and Red Bull driver Shane Van Gisbergen third providing an all star line up for the start of the afternoon’s race.
Aside from the Supercars event, other classes on the bill included the Australian GT championship, Formula 4 and the Dunlop Super2 Series. Between events, fans were able to freely access the pit paddock to see the cars and teams working up close, and grab a sneaky selfie with their favourite drivers. Patrons were also able to visit the vast selection of team merchandise stands, to pick out a hat (or jacket!) to support their number 1 team or driver.
Saturdays Race unfolded in dramatic fashion with a blistering start from Winterbottom to lead the early laps. As the race progressed, pit strategies came into play with the Shell V power car of McLaughlin and the Red Bull of Van Gisbergen at the head of the field. Controversy unfolded however after a safety car restart on lap ended with the 12 and 97 cars colliding at turn 2. This forced the leaders down the field, handing the win to the sister DJR Shell entry of Coulthard. The Supercheap Auto car of Chaz Mostert passed the line second with Whincup third. McLaughlin would later receive a time penalty from the race stewards for his coming together with the 97 Red Bull car, seeing him finish further down the field in 21st, although somewhat controversially 2 spots ahead of McLaughlin.
In a show of sportsmanship, McLaughlin was quick to address Van Gisbergen post race, apologising for his mistake that led to the contact.
Sunday saw a new day, however, the colder temperatures and unsettling wind returned meaning teams and drivers would struggle again to find a balance in car set ups for qualifying. Scott McLaughlin carried his Saturday form into qualifying, securing the pole ahead of the 55 Supercheap car driven my Mostert and the ever consistent Whincup in 3rd.
Race 18 saw a terrible start from McLaughlin in pole who slipped back to 5th whilst Mostert made a lightning start from second to lead the field. Meanwhile, Whincup made a steady start to sit third early on in the race. An exploding tyre that saw extensive damage to the Sengled Nissan Ultima of Rick Kelly saw the safety car deployed, opening a strategic can of worms for teams and pit crews with the majority of the field pitting early.
As the laps wound down, Whincup charged to the front of the field passing teammate Van Gisbergen for the lead in the sister Red Bull car with 10 laps to go. Tyre conservation saw an epic battle unfold for the minor placings between Van Gisbergen, McLaughlin, Coulthard and Mostert, but none could close the gap to the 88 car of Whincup who took the win, securing a record breaking 106th career victory. Coulthard would make the pass on the 97 Red Bull car with two laps to spare, securing second whilst Van Gisbergen eventually held off Mc Laughlin for 3rd.
The results see McLaughlin hold a slender lead in the championship over Whincup with Coulthard in 3rd and 2016 Champion Van Gisbergen in 4th.
The final results for races 17 and 18:
1 Fabian Coulthard – Shell V-Power Racing Team
2 Chaz Mostert – Supercheap Auto Racing
3 Jamie Whincup – Red Bull Holden Racing Aust
4 Mark Winterbottom – The Bottle-O Racing Team
5 Scott Pye – Mobil 1 HSV Racing
1 Jamie Whincup – Red Bull Holden Racing Aust
2 Fabian Coulthard – Shell V-Power Racing Team
3 Shane van Gisbergen – Red Bull Holden Racing Aust
4 Scott McLaughlin – Shell V-Power Racing Team
5 Chaz Mostert – Supercheap Auto Racing