Scott McLaughlin has sauntered to his 50th career Supercars victory under the Darwin sun as the defending champion executed an emphatic performance to lead Shane Van Gisbergen to an unrivalled race victory.
The Kiwi only relinquished the lead during the pitstop phase while Van Gisbergen struggled to match the pace of his rival, eventually crossing the line 9.6s down on McLaughlin.
Scott Pye scored his second podium finish of the season having been the last driver in the field to pit for new tyres and hunting down an ailing Fabian Coulthard in the closing laps.
The race was won off the line where McLaughlin nailed the launch from the dirty side of the grid to head Van Gisbergen down the main straight into Turn 1. The biggest mover was McLaughlin’s stablemate Coulthard who stormed from sixth to third in the space of the opening tour, momentarily running side-by-side with Van Gisbergen as the pair duelled for second.
Todd Hazelwood and Chris Pither were also big movers from the start, the former sporting a new engine package with both gaining four positions in the space of one lap.
Coulthard was the first of the leaders to pit as he cycled the lane on Lap 6, maintaining track position and compelling Red Bull and Van Gisbergen into an early stop by responding one lap later.
Despite an electric out lap, a fast-charging Coulthard was unable to get ahead of Van Gisbergen on the rejoin. McLaughlin boxed one lap later with enough of a cushion to hold the theoretical race lead.
Scott Pye was elevated into the provisional lead while Team 18 teammate Mark Winterbottom had a more troublesome time mired in the midpack after a slow pitstop left him behind Jamie Whincup and Lee Holdsworth.
The most entertaining battle on track at mid-race distance emerged as the duel for fifth between Waters and Whincup. The Red Bull Commodore rapidly latched onto the rear wing of the Monster Energy Mustang and began to pile on the pressure.
Pye’s consistency upfront was impressive and by the time he was called into the lane for a change of boots on Lap 27 he emerged directly behind Coulthard but importantly ahead of Waters who was beginning to head a train of his own with Nick Percat and Chaz Mostert inviting themselves to the battle with Whincup.
Pye was blazing on his fresh rubber and within a handful of laps was within striking distance of Coulthard, diving up the inside at the final turn to steal away third.
Percat and Mostert became entangled in an enthralling battle of their own with the WAU Commodore lunging up the inside of Percat at Turn 5 to promote himself into seventh. But the fight wouldn’t end there and a wily move by Percat at the final corner allowed the Brad Jones Racing pilot to drag up the inside of Mostert along the main straight.
The rivals went side-by-side into Turn 1 but an overly keen Mostert tagged the right-rear side of Percat’s bumper, pitching his rival into a pirouette on the outfield. Mostert was sentenced with 15-seconds added to his race time for his troubles while a frustrated Percat recovered to finish a lowly 15th.
A rapid Pye had begun to eat away at the three-second advantage of Van Gisbergen and was within half a chance of a move as the leaders begun their final lap. Pye searched in vain for a way past but a collected Van Gisbergen clung on to second position.
The positive news for Van Gisbergen is he will start on pole for the weekend’s final race later this afternoon which is set to start from 4.55 pm NZT.