Shane van Gisbergen has converted pole position into a second consecutive victory at the Repco Mount Panorama 500 — the Kiwi claiming a clear-cut win over Cameron Waters and Chaz Mostert. It’s the first time van Gisbergen has swept the opening round of a Supercars championship, and gives him a significant head start in the title fight.
The defending Bathurst 1000 champ spent the first stint trailing Waters, only to get by him after the first stop and an apparent strategic miscalculation from Tickford Racing. From there the lead was never under threat.
Off the start it was Waters with the outside line that had the best start, leaving van Gisbergen to deal with the DJR duo on the opening lap. By the end of it, the Monster pilot had almost six tenths of margin in hand. The big dice in the early laps was Will Davison versus Chaz Mostert for fourth place; Mostert getting the spot at the final corner at the end of lap two, having traded paint with Davison exiting the Chase earlier.
Pit stops started kicking off on lap three with Jack Le Brocq. David Reynolds followed suit the next lap. The leaders by and large pressed on for a longer opening stint, covering themselves in case there was a safety car and making use of their track position. A safety car very nearly came out when James Courtney crashed out of a top 10 slot on lap nine at the Cutting (stoving in the rear end of his Mustang), but with the 2010 champ returning to pit-lane unassisted no safety car came.
Jamie Whincup became the first of the front-runners to stop during the Courtney uncertainty, doing so straight away. The following lap Davison peeled off from fifth, trailed by Bryce Fullwood — the latter adding an extra little dent to Courtney’s already smashed Mustang as he drilled it at pit entry in the hopes of speeding him up.
Mostert was the first of the critical stops, being processed on lap 13. De Pasquale followed him a lap later from third, triggering a fascinating exchange between the two as De Pasquale re-entered the fray right in front of the Walkinshaw Commodore. De Pasquale looked set to retain the spot after surviving over the top of the mountain, only for him to lock an inside tyre at the Chase and give Mostert the position.
As the pairing dueled, van Gisbergen pitted out of second — the margin between he and Waters having grown to over a second. Waters completed his stop on lap 16, and immediately returned to the track vulnerable to van Gisbergen. The Red Bull ace had a run on Waters out of turn one as he came out of pit-lane, and then got by him over the crest of Mountain Straight — van Gisbergen moving across over the hill to block Waters, making mild contact but with no foul for either party.
Van Gisbergen immediately pumped a margin between he and Waters; posting the fastest lap of the race straight away, building a 1.6-second buffer in the process. Behind the duo Mostert was third some 2.5-seconds adrift, with De Pasquale, Davison, Whincup, Mark Winterbottom, Andre Heimgartner, David Reynolds, and Scott Pye filling the top 10 17 laps into the 40-lapper.
By the halfway point, van Gisbergen’s margin had grown to three seconds. By this point the pit-cycle had effectively restarted, with the first stoppers from cycle one touring the lane for their last stops from lap 20 onwards as the leaders continued on. Lap 23 was critical, as Mostert, Davison, and Whincup all stopped together. Mostert was the biggest one; radically altering his strategy for a much shorter fill in the hopes of making time on the van Gisbergen and Waters.
The plan was immediately thwarted, though, by van Gisbergen and Waters’ reactionary pit-stops (De Pasquale followed them, too) the following lap. Van Gisbergen was able to retain a significant advantage on Waters and the rest, with three seconds in his favour. The field was cleansed by lap 27, van Gisbergen leading Waters (4.3 seconds in hand), Mostert (another 4 seconds behind), De Pasquale, Winterbottom, Davison, Whincup, Heimgartner, Pye, and Nick Percat in 10th.
From here the race settled into a rhythm; van Gisbergen adequately managing his gap to Waters — eventually winning by over five seconds. There weren’t many other changes among the lead pack; Waters and Mostert completing the podium over De Pasquale and Winterbottom. Davison had been planted in sixth position until a late-race off through the dirt at the final corner, which allowed Whincup to sneak by.
Pye, Heimgartner, and Percat completed the top 10 finishers, with Reynolds, Brodie Kostecki, Fullwood, and Brown narrowly missing out on a top 10 berth. Fabian Coulthard completed the Kiwi contingent in 22nd, after a fraught race shot by issues with the team’s fuel filler system.
The series now prepares for round two at Victoria’s Sandown Raceway on March 19–21.