The 2020 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 has hit the halfway mark, with Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander the best positioned combination as the race enters its second half.
With Tander at the wheel, the Red Bull Commodore leads the No. 17 Ford Mustang of Scott McLaughlin and Tim Slade by just over a second. Slade currently leads a three-car battle for second between he, Will Davison, and Tony D’Alberto in a race that’s already claimed numerous pre-race favourites to incidents and mechanical issues.
McLaughlin led much of the opening stint, having won the start. Unlike previous years, the field was relatively even on how many co-drivers started the race versus lead drivers. Will Davison held second over a quick-starting Anton De Pasquale, Tander, James Courtney, and Warren Luff. By lap 12, the gap from McLaughlin to Davison had stabilised to around five seconds.
A rough morning for Brad Jones Racing continued with ongoing power-steering issues in the team’s lead entry of Nick Percat and Thomas Randle (the latter starting), and ongoing issues with an opening driver’s door for Macauley Jones and Tim Blanchard. Jones’ door flicked open on lap one, with officials ordering the team to fix the door and then handing them an added 15-second penalty for not carrying out repairs immediately.
The first scheduled pit stops took place on lap 14, with Bryce Fullwood and Dylan O’Keefe handing over their respective cars to Kurt Kostecki and Andre Heimgartner. First of the top three to peel off was De Pasquale on lap 17, handing over the Penrite entry to Brodie Kostecki. McLaughlin pitted out of the lead on lap 19 (Luff also following), handing controls over to Tim Slade.
On lap 22, Davison, Courtney, Tander, Randle, and more pitted. Rick Kelly also pitted, but lingering clutch issues prevented him from restarting and forced the Castrol Mustang to be wheeled into their pit-bay for repairs. By lap 23 the field had been cleansed; Slade leading Waters by over seven seconds, with Brodie Kostecki, Tander (double-stinting), Jami Whincup, Chaz Mostert, Broc Feeney, Lee Holdsworth, James Moffat (also double-stinting), and a rising Andre Heimgartner in 10th.
The battles to emerge were Tander versus Kostecki and Whincup versus Mostert — both battles eventually converging to create a four-car train for third. Adding to that was Waters’ progress on Slade — the gap between them shrinking from seven seconds to just under three by lap 30. Tander eventually got by Kostecki at turn two. The three-time 1000 winner immediately gapped the Super2 round winner, seeing him fall into the clutches of Whincup.
This set off an entertaining flourish as Kostecki fended off Whincup and Mostert. A lap 32 fake at the Chase from Whincup almost saw him contact the Penrite ace, and the same near-miss took place at turn two the following lap. Whincup, trying to live on the outside of Kostecki at the Cutting, sliding wide and collecting the wall to become the first high-profile retirement of the day.
Whincup’s crashed Commodore triggered the first safety car, and a subsequent rush of pit-stops. Slade lost the race lead in the melee to Waters, with Tander handing over controls of the sole surviving Red Bull car to van Gisbergen for the first time. Kostecki, Holdsworth, Le Brocq, Coulthard, and Percat followed. Kostecki became the biggest talking point of the restart; continuing to be a challenge to pass. He and Mostert sparred for a few laps, until Kostecki ran wide at the Chase through the dirt, allowing Mostert by before viciously defending fifth spot from Holdsworth. The provisional pole-sitter got by him soon after.
Slade was holding firm in his first stint behind the wheel. While Waters was able to drive away and quickly build a six-second gap, Slade appeared to have the pace to hold off van Gisbergen and Mostert behind. As the second wave of stops commenced, a crash for Todd Hazelwood’s co-driver Jordan Boys on the front straight — getting a wheel on the dirt on corner exit and losing control into the inside wall — meant a second safety car in quick succession.
A heap of teams reacted simultaneously; Waters, Le Brocq, Slade (handing the car back to McLaughlin), Mostert, Kostecki, Percat, Heimgartner, and many more all stopped during the yellow. Everyone bolted on slick tyres, but showers appeared to be very close to landing — helicopter shots appearing to show rain less than a kilometre from the top of the mountain. And, under safety car, it arrived — just in time for the lap 53 race restart.
While Heimgartner’s co-driver Dylan O’Keefe elected to bolt on wet tyres, everyone else pressed on on slick tyres; Will Davison (having taken over the Monster Mustang) leading McLaughlin, van Gisbergen, Coulthard, Caruso, Luff, Mark Winterbottom, Brodie Kostecki, Le Brocq, and Bryce Fullwood. Van Gisbergen used the conditions to good effect, passing McLaughlin at Forrest Elbow and setting off after Davison. Coulthard and Kostecki were also quick; both getting by McLaughlin on lap 55.
The same lap saw van Gisbergen kick off a battle with race leader Davison. By Conrod Straight he was in Davison’s draft, and by turn one of lap 56 he had taken the race lead. Coulthard followed him, getting by Davison a few laps later and subsequently putting the former race leader in a dice with Kostecki and McLaughlin. By lap 58 the rain looked to have subsided, with pace returning to the track and O’Keefe coming back into pit-lane for slicks and going further off-sequence. A mistake under brakes in the dry at the Chase saw McLaughlin finally get back by Kostecki on lap 59.
By lap 65, van Gisbergen’s lead to Coulthard was still only hovering at around a second, with Davison over three seconds adrift in third. The same lap saw Fullwood return to pit-lane to hand his car over to Kurt Kostecki, thus kicking off the next wave of stops. A promising race from the young duo was rued by a wiggins clamp failure under the bonnet, which prompted a lengthy and chaotic pit-stop setting the pair back multiple laps. Bad news also befell the lead BJR car, which was pushed into the garage on lap 67 with some form of potential engine drama, on top of the car’s ongoing power steering problems.
Van Gisbergen’s speed continued to grow; the 2016 champ setting his quickest lap of the race on lap 70. Coulthard’s challenge had faded slightly, with the gap growing to three seconds by this point. Coulthard pitted on lap 75 from second. Kostecki in the leading Penrite Commodore also stopped; a tardy brake change costing them over 20 seconds and dropping them to 11th as the stops cycled through.
Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin stopped on the following laps, with drivers swapping over to their co-driver equivalents Tander and Slade. The pair resumed in first and second, separated by 1.2 seconds and with the No. 17 Mustang leaping past both Davison and the No. 12 Mustang, which now had D’Alberto behind the wheel. They represented the top four, with Luff, James Golding (who with Winterbottom has enjoyed a quiet race of achievement), Caruso (battling communications issues), Feeney, Moffat, and Dean Fiore rounded out the top 10.