Scott McLaughlin has made it three from three at the CoreStaff Darwin SuperSprint as the Kiwi eased to another comfortable victory to strengthen his championship assault.
The win is McLaughlin’s 51st of his career and all but asserts himself as the man to beat in this year’s condensed championship.
Nick Percat’s superb qualifying effort was rewarded with a podium result as the Brad Jones Racing pilot waltzed to the second step on the rostrum, albeit a mammoth 13 seconds behind a runaway McLaughlin.
Scott Pye meanwhile made it two podiums on the bounce with another strong drive to finish third; and it could well have been two Team 18-prepared Commodores in the top four as teammate Mark Winterbottom executed a wily strategy to charge through the field in the closing laps, coming up shy on fourth at the line as Shane Van Gisbergen clung onto a disappointing result having started on pole.
Once again victory was determined at the race start as is the difficulty of overtaking at Hidden Valley Raceway; and once again it was a flawless launch by McLaughlin who got the holeshot and sailed into the early lead.
Van Gisbergen’s start was not so clean and the Kiwi dropped two positions on the run into Turn 1 as Percat bolted past the Red Bull Commodore from third on the grid to run second as the rest of the field squabbled for track superiority.
Winterbottom had had one of his most competitive qualifying sessions in recent past and started from the second row of the grid. A mature start by Frosty ensured he sat fourth after the opening tour with Cam Waters and Chaz Mostert in tow.
Waters was the first in the queue to transit pitlane on Lap 6. But his race quickly unfolded one lap later when a rejoining Jamie Whincup emerged directly ahead of the hard-charging Mustang. Waters looked to get the criss-cross on Whincup at Turn 1 but the duo clashed, damaging the front-left wheel of the Tickford racer and putting a premature end to his weekend.
Whincup carried on albeit down a position as a fortunate Pye capitalised on the incident to move ahead of the former series champion.
Upfront, Percat and McLaughlin both made their compulsory pitstops on Laps 7 and 8 respectively with the championship leader rejoining at the head of the train of drivers to have made their pitstops.
An enthralling battle was emerging behind an ailing Bryce Fullwood, the lead protagonist being Fabian Coulthard who was recovering from a woeful qualifying which left him mired in the midpack.
Coulthard was beginning to become flustered behind Fullwood which resulted in the Kiwi lunging it up the inside of the WAU Commodore at Turn 14. Fullwood looked to shut the door on Coulthard but instead found himself shoved off the road, falling several positions as Coulthard picked up a five-second penalty for his troubles.
Van Gisbergen extended his opening stint until Lap 18 and after he completed his sole pitstop found himself back behind Percat but also Pye who had benefited from an earlier stop. Another driver on the charge was Chaz Mostert who found a welcome turn in pace in the back stages of the race and lurked in the wake of Van Gisbergen as the rest of the field completed their pit sequence.
An underdog from the onset, Winterbottom was one of the last drivers to take on fresh rubber with the 2015 series champion emerging from the pitlane down in eighth. Similar to Pye’s strategy earlier in the day, Winterbottom was a benefactor of the fresh tyre advantage and swooped ahead of Whincup and Mostert in successive laps to run fifth.
Van Gisbergen was beginning to drop off the pace of Pye and despite some stubborn defence fell victim to the hard-charging Winterbottom who gave the Kiwi and gentle bump-and-run at Turn 5 to demote the Red Bull to fifth.
Frosty piled the pressure on Van Gisbergen for fourth in the final stages of the race but couldn’t muster a successful overtake, trailing behind the Kiwi at the chequered flag.
McLaughlin’s emphatic performance is his eighth race win of the year and sees his points lead extended to 177 over Whincup who floundered in the latter stages of the race to end up seventh.
The Supercars paddock has a quick turn around for the next race which will be the first leg of a Townsville doubleheader on August 29-30.