Red Bull Racing have put together a masterclass in strategy to deliver Shane van Gisbergen race victory over his teammate Broc Feeney in the first race of the Newcastle 500 this afternoon.
Opting to under fuel on the first stop to take track position gave the Kiwi clear air to put all his talent to use and go about building a massive gap over the field. A longer second and final stop was no issue because of this, the Kiwi re-emerging from the lane with his lead maintained to power home to race victory by 14.7408 seconds.
Second spot was also taken in a pitlane battle for Feeney who was able to jump Cam Waters on his final stop to take the position.
Waters was appropriately awarded third and the first of the Mustang’s home.
It was the perfect introduction for a new era of Supercars, complimented by clean running and issue-free cars with not a single Safety Car intervention required for the entirety of the race. Nick Percat was the only non-finisher with brake issues the cause of his demise.
The three Kiwis in the field were also incredible throughout proceedings, with Andre Heimgartner looking the part for a hard-fought seventh.
Matt Payne was the biggest mover in the pack to finish in a well-deserved 14th. A slightly alternate strategy run by Grove Racing worked wonders for the rookie who took both stops early to execute successful undercuts on those around. To do so, however, ability behind the wheel is crucial, something the 20-year-old proved he had plenty of.
Fourth place was taken by Chaz Mostert and was highlighted by a late-race battle with Brodie Kostecki to take the spot. Kostecki finished fifth but will be left disappointed after a slow first stop caused by a sticky front left dented his chances after leading early proceedings.
Will Brown was another big mover to finish in sixth place as was Mark Winterbottom for eighth. Scott Pye and James Courtney rounded out the top 10, making for a split of seven Camaros and three Mustangs and putting the parity debate to rest-for now.
Tomorrow is a new day, however, with another qualifying session, Top 10 Shootout and 95 lap race set to take place.
Van Gisbergen got off to a flyer off the third row to jump Reynolds and Slade to slot into fourth behind his teammate Feeney.
Heimgartner was another great starter, pipping Mostert off the line to take seventh off Mostert and falling in behind Reynolds.
Payne was also quick to make up ground from near the back, quickly gaining places to be 20th after Lap 2
That’s the same lap Shell V-Power’s difficult introduction to Gen3 continued after Anton de Pasquale was turned by Todd Hazlewood who was attempting a move up the inside at Turn 8. He was able to swing around and rejoin at the back before quickly making background and setting the fastest lap.
A rhythm was quick to settle in, the slightly wider cars making overtaking seem slightly more difficult, evident by a Feeney attempt to pass Waters on Lap 3. The Tickford Mustang kept position to leave Feeney within reach of Van Gisbergen behind.
Lap 12 was where things began to heat up with Feeney hot on Waters’ tail with the defending champion following. Kostecki hadn’t been able to build a lead over the pack with his buffer still under a second.
Van Gisbergen moved up to third the very next lap with a smooth dive up the inside on a right-hander. He quickly pulled clear of his teammate who was left vulnerable to a pacey Slade behind.
By Lap 17 Kostecki had finally built a gap of over one second over the field as Waters went about covering van Gisbergen.
Gaps began to emerge throughout the field with the top five pulling a gap on Reynolds and Heimgartner who had in turn built a small gap on those behind.
Several of the mid-field began making their first stop around Lap 20. This included Payne who returned to action in 24th but with the majority of cars yet to pit.
Several of these drivers did emerge right in front of the leaders but the beauty of the new generation meant they were able to keep or better the pace of the front-runners whilst on fresher rubber. The 25th-placed Hazlewood successfully unlapped himself by passing Kostecki.
Heimgartner came in for his first stop on Lap 27 and was followed the very next lap by Feeney who came in from fourth.
Waters stopped three laps later to catch a break from an unrelenting van Gisbergen who had kept the pressure on over the past 15 laps. He emerged from the lane just ahead of Feeney.
While Waters may have been happy to get one Red Bull off his tail, he faced the prospects of another with Feeney smothering his rear bumper.
A slow stop for Kostecki saw Van Gisbergen, Waters and Feeney pass through, with Van Gisbergen taking the lead of the race and the Tickford Monster Mustang the filling in a Red Bull sandwich.
Slade was an unfortunate casualty of a sticky front right in his stop, dropping from fifth down to the rear of the field and losing multiple laps.
Fuel was also a factor in each of the stops with varying quantities given to each car, meaning a true running order would only be revealed after their second stop.
Red Bull successfully used this strategy by short-fueling van Gisbergen, seeing him take track position and not be held up by cars in front. He used this to his advantage to begin building a big lead.
At the race’s mid-point, Payne had become the biggest mover to sit 12th, a massive gain of 10 positions from his qualifying result. Van Gisbergen’s lead had extended beyond 5 seconds with Feeney and Waters in close proximity in the fight for second.
Heimgartner had begun working on Brown -who was another big mover after the first round of stops- fighting hard for seventh and nudging the Australian along.
Payne stopped for his second time on Lap 55 to return to 22nd but was out of sync with the pack. He was followed the likes of Pye, Randle, Feeney and Kostecki who all took on large quantities of fuel.
The field reacted, including Waters from second having fallen back over 12 seconds from van Gisbergen.
The leader stayed out to run longer with Heimgartner following suit to make for a Kiwi one-two on track. They both made their final stop, with Heimgartner dropping back to seventh but van Gisbergen maintaining his lead.
The order after the second pitstops had Feeney running second over Waters, Kostecki, Mostert, Brown, Heimgartner and Winterbottom, respectively. Payne had returned to 15th by this point.
Gaps between drivers began to appear over the dying stages, the only battle of note seeing Mostert work through Kostecki after several laps of pressure to take fourth on the road.
That was how things remained, van Gisbergen cruising to race victory by over 14 seconds ahead of Feeney. Waters ensure there was a Mustang on the podium by finishing third ahead of Mostert.
Kostecki held on to finish fifth ahead of Brown, Heimgartner, Winterbottom, Pye and Courtney respectively.
Payne was impressive in his Supercars debut to take 14th from 22nd on the grid. He was also the highest-placed rookie with Declan Fraser one spot behind.
Header Image: Red Bull Ampol Racing