Having set the timesheets alight in practice, before scooping both provisional pole and pole outright in the top 10 shootout, Anton De Pasquale has claimed a clear-cut victory in the Bunnings Trade Sydney SuperNight opener under lights.
The Shell V-Power Racing driver dominated most of the race, only briefly looking under threat in the early laps. Shane van Gisbergen took second place, some five seconds off the leader, with Brodie Kostecki claiming third after a tumultuous race for both Erebus Motorsport entries.
The biggest pre-race talking point was tyre degradation on the new Eastern Creek surface across the 32 laps, even in the theoretically cooler night conditions.
While De Pasquale led off the start, it looked like Will Davison had the best start of the bunch … but with nowhere to go being blocked in by his teammate and Will Brown. The jostling saw Davison run wide over the hill to turn three, allowing van Gisbergen to slip by.
Despite the lack of recent time behind the wheel the opening laps were surprisingly clean. De Pasquale and Brown quickly built a small buffer on van Gisbergen, with Davison under threat from Nick Percat and Brodie Kostecki.
That threat proved to be real, with Percat and Kostecki both getting by the former Bathurst 1000 winner, putting him in the crosshairs of Chaz Mostert.
In the early running, Brown’s pace was legitimate. He quickly showed that he was the only driver with comparable race pace to De Pasquale.
With the fastest lap under his belt, he clung on to De Pasquale with the gap between the two hovering at around half a second, Van Gisbergen some three seconds behind by lap six. However, by lap eight that gap had expanded to a second.
David Reynolds was the first to stop, peeling off from 11th place on lap nine. Mark Winterbottom, Todd Hazelwood, and others followed on the following lap. And, Percat became the first of the leaders to stop on lap 11.
By lap 13, De Pasquale, Brown, and van Gisbergen were almost line astern; the latter having reeled in the other two. Despite Brown looking impressive early, he was unable to fend off van Gisbergen’s sudden assault on lap 14 at the last corner.
De Pasquale and Brown finally pitted on lap 16, and it was here that Brown’s chances would fall to pieces. While De Pasquale’s stop was regulation, Brown’s involved wheelnut issues that cost him eight precious seconds.
What turned things from bad to worse was that the squad had put four tyres on (the only one to do so, in an attempt to give Brown a shot at the win), meaning his stop was slightly longer than usual anyway, and reduced his bank of fresh rubber for the rest of the weekend’s races.
After a much longer first stint, van Gisbergen finally stopped on lap 20; managing to make his tyre-set last a handsome distance. With 13 laps to go, the Kiwi resumed in third place; a few tenths behind Percat and three seconds behind De Pasquale.
Van Gisbergen soon dispatched Percat on the front straight, giving him 11 laps to try and bridge the four-second gap to De Pasquale.
Behind the top three, Mostert was fourth ahead of Brodie Kostecki and Brown (both flying on four new tyres), a fading Reynolds on antique rubber, Davison, Whincup, and an impressive Fabian Coulthard.
The rise of Kostecki and Brown was the most intriguing watch. Working in tandem, the two both rounded up Mostert on lap 25 before going after Percat.
By lap 29 the two Erebus entries were all over Percat in the battle for the last spot on the podium. An inside tyre lock from Percat entering Corporate Hill gave Kostecki a sniff, but he wasn’t prepared to give up the podium without a fight.
What followed was the best dice of the race, as a wounded Percat tried to fend off the two hotshot rookies. After a few tense laps, Kostecki finally got the move done on the penultimate lap with a clean pass at turn six.
Van Gisbergen, meanwhile, was struggling to make much of a dent in De Pasquale’s lead. The gap hovered around 3.6 seconds for most of the run to the flag, before ballooning to over four seconds. In the end, De Pasquale crossed the line with a five-second gap to van Gisbergen.
Brown was unable to steal fourth place from Percat; the TCR champ finishing fifth. Mostert, Davison, Reynolds, Whincup, and Slade rounded out the top 10. Narrowly missing out on what would’ve been his first top 10 of the season was Coulthard, in 11th.
It was a disappointing run for championship contender Waters, who ended up finishing 13th, behind former teammate Winterbottom. Hazelwood, Andre Heimgartner, Macauley Jones, Garry Jacobson, Bryce Fullwood, Scott Pye, and Jack Smith completed the top 20.