There is far more tension and excitement in the Top 15 shootout than the race itself on Saturday in Darwin.
Jamie Whincup sets the early one-lap pace and then has to survive a rage of rivals to claim pole position, just a tick ahead of Scott McLaughlin.
“His shootout lap today was amazing. Unbelievable,” McLaughlin says in saluting his rival.
James Courtney shocks everyone – including himself – with the third-quickest time as Mark Winterbottom and Scott Pye highlight the improvements at Team 18 when they run seventh and eighth.
Youngster Bryce Fullwood – who was nowhere a week earlier in his home race, and is headed for a tough race – gets the better of his WAU team leader Chaz Mostert as they line up 10th and 12th.
Shane van Gisbergen, so often a one-lap wonder, is complaining about his car – the same situation as Darwin1 – and only manages 11th, while Nick Percat is slightly surprising back in ninth.
Race 16 is a fairly predictable soft-tyre sprint, with little change in the lead group after the opening laps.
McLaughlin drives a regulation B-to-A race, jumping Whincup from the clean side of the track to lead into the first turn and for the rest of the race. The Shell V-Power team makes a tactical change from Darwin1, changing rear Dunlops instead of right-side rubber on his Mustang, to maintain the break over Whincup in the Red Bull HRT Commodore.
“The start was really pivotal, to be able to get in front of Jamie down to One. Then I was able to do my race,” says McLaughlin.
“It was a nice start to the weekend. We’ve got a few little things we’ve got to work on, but I’m pretty happy.”
Whincup, who only loses a handful of points in their championship battle, is happy with second after suffering more than McLaughlin on worn tyres.
“We’ll take that. 17 was slightly quicker and deserved the win,” he says.
Courtney looks nicely racy in his Boost Mustang, but has to surrender the final podium place when Cam Waters jumps him with a quicker tyre change.
“All the stars aligned for me, finally,” Waters says.
“It was fun racing JC. We jumped him. My guys did a little bit better job in the pitstop.”
But Courtney is already plotting an improvement in the twin 38-lap sprints on Sunday.
“It’s going to be tough tomorrow, especially with the heat and having to back up again,” he says.
Away from the front-runners, Pye’s race is over on the grid when he fails to get away, Jack LeBrocq has to park his Mustang after a first-corner tangle with Anton De Pasquale’s Commodore.
“A bit of a freak accident. A bit unlucky, I think,” says Le Brocq.
There are no Safety Car situations but Chris Pither is a late retirement when he parks the Coca-Cola Commodore.
Shane van Gisbergen creates some late action after bolting four fresh Dunlops onto his car, improving from 15th to eight with some classy passes on Fabian Coulthard and Chaz Mostert, as Nick Percat also does a solid job to run home strongly to fifth.
RACE 16 – 38 LAPS
|Anton de Pasquale
|Shane van Gisbergen