Red Bull Ampol Racing has once again secured a 1-2 finish; Shane van Gisbergen leading home Jamie Whincup at the second and final race of the NTI Townsville 500. The race was an echo of Saturday’s affair; Whincup leading early and looking good, only for Van Gisbergen to overthrow the seven-time champ in the run to the flag. The win doubles as van Gisbergen’s 50th in the series, since his debut in 2007.
Shell V-Power Racing were the best of the rest, with Anton De Pasquale and Will Davison finishing third and fourth, over 20 seconds behind the winning duo. The pairing had benefited from the woes of Brad Jones Racing; promising performances from Nick Percat and Todd Hazelwood spoiled by troubles in pit-lane and fading race pace.
Yet again the race kicked off with a Red Bull front-row lockout. For the second time in a row, Whincup took the lead. Van Gisbergen’s jump wasn’t ideal; the Kiwi initially looking under threat from both Nick Percat and the impressive Todd Hazelwood. By the end of the lap, the Kiwi was back into second place. He outbraked Hazelwood around the outside at turn two, and then at the penultimate corner he was able to outbrake Percat for second.
Behind the lead pack there was drama for Scott Pye, Macauley Jones, James Courtney, and Fabian Coulthard. Pye was put multiple laps down thanks to a broken right-front steering arm following messy contact with the trailing trio, while Coulthard was also forced off sequence with damage front and rear.
The race stabilised; Whincup holding a seven-tenth buffer over van Gisbergen, with a similar gap between van Gisbergen and Percat. Hazelwood, Cameron Waters, Will Brown, Anton De Pasquale, Will Davison, Tim Slade, and Chaz Mostert were the top 10 once things settled down.
The Red Bull team battle was a fascinating one. Initially it looked like Whincup had van Gisbergen’s measure, growing the margin to almost 1.5 seconds. But, by lap 17, van Gisbergen had whittled the gap to Whincup to just under a second. The pairing were clearly a cut above the rest of the pack, putting over six seconds between themselves and Percat in third.
Further down the top 10 Brown was one of the most vulnerable drivers. On lap 18 he ran wide into turn three, letting De Pasquale past. Davison got past temporarily, too, until Brown fought back on the undulating right hander onto the back straight. Slade was able to get back by Davison, too, seeing the Shell Mustang lose two spots after initially looking like it would gain one. As Davison went backwards De Pasquale went up. He got by Waters for fifth on lap 21.
Davison became the first of the leaders to stop, peeling off on lap 24. By this point van Gisbergen was just half a second behind Whincup, and Percat was 10 seconds adrift. Percat’s hold on third was shot to pieces when he peeled into the lane on lap 26. Despite being the most gun team in pit-lane all season, only the pit-board holder was ready for him.
The subsequent fracas as pit-crew grabbed their guns from the gantry cost the BJR pilot a bucket of important seconds. Team owner Brad Jones said the error was a miscommunication, based in part on the team’s need to get a replacement steering wheel for their driver; Percat having reported power steering issues with his car.
The rest of the leaders stayed out slightly longer, with Whincup finally breaking from the pack on lap 29. Waters and Brown were next to stop, with Hazelwood and De Pasquale stopping on lap 32. Van Gisbergen critically stopped a lap later. When he resumed, he was a whopping 10 seconds behind Whincup.
Davison’s early stop had seen him jump up to third. De Pasquale and Waters had also improved, with Hazelwood having dropped to sixth in front of Jack Le Brocq, Brown, Jake Kostecki, and Bryce Fullwood. The likes of Le Brocq and Kostecki had benefited from early stops, but on their older tyres they were quickly scooped up by Brown and Slade; the latter having briefly been outside the top 10. Percat was way down in 22nd.
By lap 50 Whincup’s margin had halved to a still manageable five seconds. Van Gisbergen had 15 seconds on De Pasquale, who in turn had a second on Davison. Waters, Hazelwood, and Brown had braved the early stoppers to sit fifth to seventh, with Slade, Le Brocq, and Fullwood filling the 10. Having struggled in qualifying Chaz Mostert had only climbed to 11th, while David Reynolds’ promising start to the day had seen him fade to 15th. Issues with the Penrite driver’s front right corner in his next stop saw him retire.
Davison was once again one of the first top, completing his last stop on lap 56. Hazelwood stopped a lap later; balancing a long initial run with a short second run with the aim of an undercut. Waters, Brown, and Slade stopped the next lap; Hazelwood leaping past all three of them (although Waters got him back a few laps later). Whincup stopped on lap 61, his gap to van Gisbergen having dropped all the way down to 1.6-seconds.
De Pasquale stopped on lap 62, resuming behind Whincup but well ahead of teammate Davison. Van Gisbergen then completed the picture by making his last stop on lap 65. Van Gisbergen’s stop-watch ultimatum was five seconds to Whincup, with 22 laps to go. De Pasquale was third, over 10 seconds behind, with Davison, Waters, Hazelwood, Brown, Slade, Le Brocq, and Mostert the new top 10.
Van Gisbergen’s chase of Whincup only took a handful of laps. By lap 75 he was right up behind his teammate, that five-second margin had been eliminated. Van Gisbergen’s first attempt was at his favourite spot; the penultimate corner. Whincup faded across the track to defend the move, prompting the two cars to make minor contact at the apex.
Van Gisbergen wasn’t finished. At the final corner he used every millimeter of road to slide inside his teammate. Van Gisbergen wanted to make absolutely sure that the move was done; parking his car at the apex and not allowing Whincup to attempt a ‘switchback’ move up his inside. Van Gisbergen promptly created a margin, driving into the sunset to his second win for the weekend and subsequently extending his lead in the title chase.
Whincup took what ended up as a quiet second place, with De Pasquale and Davison claiming an even more quiet third and fourth-place finish. Most of the moving and shaking in the final laps were for the spots from fifth to 10th. Waters and Brown had a fierce battle going for fifth. Behind them, Hazelwood and Slade had an equally charged fight going for seventh.
After a physical tussle, Brown finally got by Waters at the final corner just two laps from home. This left the Monster Energy ace to finish sixth, ahead of Hazelwood who held off Slade in the dying moments. Mostert and Le Brocq completed the top 10, with James Courtney and Andre Heimgartner narrowly missing out on a top-10 berth.