Penrite Racing’s Anton de Pasquale has dodged all manner of drama at the opening race of the Darwin Triple Crown to win the first Supercars Championship race of his career, leading home an interesting podium consisting of series returnee James Courtney and Scott Pye.
De Pasquale was a genuine race front-runner, but was also the benefactor of a chaotic race of incident for DJR Team Penske and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team. Both Red Bull runners incurred penalties, while Scott McLaughlin also inherited a penalty as the race went on. Beyond the podium, Chris Pither recorded a stellar fifth-place finish for Team Sydney — his best solo-race result in the series, and the best result for the recently rebranded Sydney-based team.
The drama started early, with Brad Jones Racing teammates Todd Hazelwood and Nick Percat colliding at the turn six hairpin; removing both out of the top 10. Percat had spun following contact with van Gisbergen, and a brief visit through the dust. Then, on lap four, a crash prompted by contact and subsequent track re-entry between Ford Mustang drivers Rick Kelly and Jack Le Brocq resulted in Jake Kostecki getting spun into the wall at turn 10 — triggering a safety car.
Apart from the early crash and bash chaos, the opening phase of the race was punctuated by the leading cars on soft tyres. Mark Winterbottom and Anton de Pasquale rocketed through the field. Winterbottom got by Whincup on lap two to take first, with de Pasquale nabbing second soon after. The Kostecki-triggered safety car subsequently meant sweeping pit-stops for the full field.
De Pasquale emerged as the new leader following the stop, having made contact with both the stationary queued car of Fabian Coulthard and Whincup as he came back out into the fast lane. Whincup eventually shuffled into second ahead of Courtney, McLaughlin, Winterbottom, and Cameron Waters. De Pasquale remained on the soft tyre, while Courtney swapped to softs and Winterbottom was back onto the hard with almost everyone else.
Van Gisbergen inherited a penalty for his contact with Percat on lap one, with Kelly getting a penalty of his own for the Kostecki impact a lap later. Then, finally, Whincup would be handed a 15-second time penalty for his pit-lane contact with de Pasquale.
The lap 10 restart continued the wild theme, with cars briefly going four wide with overlap. When the dust settled De Pasquale and Courtney emerged with a hefty and increasing race lead on Whincup (penalty included) and Winterbottom. McLaughlin was in fifth, but he too would get a 15-second penalty. His was for passing Courtney during the race restart before the control line. McLaughlin re-addressed the pass after the control line, but by then the penalty was sowed.
In the background, Team Sydney Coke driver Pither was pressing on. He was the next-best driver on soft tyres. By lap 19 he had got past Waters for seventh. And, with Whincup and McLaughlin taking a time-penalty hit, the Kiwi was in line for a potential top-five finish or better.
The race looked likely for a straightforward run to the flag, only for Macauley Jones to crash heavily exiting turn five. This triggered another safety car, further compressing the field. This was to the benefit of Pither and Scott Pye, who were positioned in seventh and eighth on soft tyres. And, it was to the detriment of Whincup and McLaughlin with their 15-second penalties.
The race restarted with 10 laps to go, with the lead group all hanging on. Pither had a rough restart initially, losing some spots but was back in his original position by the end of the lap having rounded up McLaughlin. Pye had crucially got past the Kiwi, making him ‘best of the rest’ on soft tyres.
As the end approached, it was clear Courtney didn’t have the speed to challenge de Pasquale for victory. In the end, the first-time winner would see the chequered flag by eight tenths of a second. Pye was another six seconds behind his former teammate to finish third. Winterbottom narrowly held off Pither to claim a well-earned fourth, with Coulthard, Chaz Mostert, Waters, Andre Heimgartner, and Holdsworth rounding out the top 10.
Van Gisbergen ended up 11th after his penalty, while Whincup and McLaughlin finished 17th and 20th in the end.
|Anton de Pasquale
|Shane van Gisbergen
|Jack Le Brocq