It was a comfortable victory for Jamie Whincup in Race 19 of the Supercars championship, the opening race of the weekend at the NTI Townsville SuperSprint as the seven-time champion cruised to an unrivalled win.
The Red Bull pilot’s nearest challenger was Cam Waters who finished 6.8s behind at the chequered flag for his third podium finish of the year after a late move on Chaz Mostert who rounded out the rostrum.
Concluding a turbulent day at the office was Scott McLaughlin who expiated his qualifying disaster to finish seventh.
But the silent star of the show was undoubtedly Chris Pither who benefited from a manic opening lap before vying with much faster cars in the latter stages of the race as the Kiwi clung on to an impressive P11.
A rapid start by Whincup gave him a comfortable lead on the run into Turn 1 as David Reynolds was swamped from the second spot in the grid.
But a clumsy Turn 1 tangle punctuated the opening lap as Lee Holdsworth drilled into the rear of Mark Winterbottom which resulted in a train of cars tripping over one of another.
Anton de Pasquale was pitched 180 degrees as Shane Van Gisbergen was carried along with the inertia of the incident into the rear of the stricken Penrite car. The front splitter of Van Gisbergen suffered a nasty punch as the Kiwi limped home to the pitlane.
Further down the road a wounded Andre Heimgartner ambled home with significant front right damage. Todd Hazelwood and Zane Goddard were also early exits as they retired with wounded cars.
The race remained green and Reynolds woeful start was compounded when Waters scythed by at Turn 1.
Despite baring a mutilated rear bumper as a consequence of being tangled in the opening lap shenanigans, McLaughlin found himself up eight spots to run inside the top-10 by the time he was whistled into the pitlane on Lap 9.
The biggest winner across the opening stint was Pither who capitalised on his rivals’ misfortunes to elevate himself ten positions and on the fringe of the top-10.
Upfront, Whincup was sailing away from the challenging pack as Mostert languished three-seconds adrift and was being hounded from behind by a laser-focused Waters.
WAU were thus the first to yield and bring in Mostert for fresh rubber with the race leader responding a lap later, relinquishing the lead to the Waters who extended his opening stint until Lap 23.
Once having transited the lane, Waters emerged down in sixth after a lengthy pitstop and behind Reynolds and Scott Pye who both made their compulsory stop in the first half of the race. However, the Monster Energy Mustang had donned four unused tyres and was blazing through the field, skating ahead of Pye at Turn 11 and easing his way past Reynolds one tour later.
Asides from Whincup, Fabian Coulthard seemed to be the driver at most comfort with his car as he jockeyed himself from seventh to fourth in a flurry of late moves including on Reynolds who floundered after his impressive qualifying performance.
Benefitting from his late pitstop, Waters inhaled Mostert’s lead in only a handful of laps to sit pretty for a lunge at second. The two have a well-documented love-hate relationship but Mostert offered no real contest this time by as Waters muscled his way into second four laps from home.
Whincup was in a league of his own at the head of the queue, so much so he missed the chequered flag and carried on for another victory lap before parking himself on the main straight with radio issues meaning his team were unable to communicate messages with their driver for most of the race.
De Pasquale made late amends after being spun to the rear of the field, bullying his way ahead of Winterbottom and Pither in the final two laps, dragging himself alongside Pye on the run to the line to consolidate tenth.
Tomorrow will kick off with two ten-minute qualifying sessions to set the grid for Races 20 and 21 of the championship.