Scott McLaughlin was mugged by the Bulls on the streets of Townsville as Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup went 1-2 in the final race on the northern tour.
The championship leader was struggling with badly-worn tyres on his Shell V-Power Mustang when the twin Commodores of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team jumped him with just four laps to the flag.
First Whincup conceded second spot to give SvG a clear shot at the leader, then he benefitted as van Gisbergen moved McLaughlin out of the way and cleared a path for him to the runner-up spot.
While the Commodore camp were celebrating, the championship leader – who still took top points from the three-race Townsville2 weekend – could barely conceal his rage.
“That was pretty average, with the big push off. I get he was playing the team game but it would have been better to have a fair battle.
“I had to run wide because I was put other there. I get the team game, but…,” says McLaughlin.
He stopped millimetres short of accusing his rivals of unsportsmanlike behaviour, but said it was now “game on” in the fight for the 2020 title.
It was still a varied and entertaining race, from the moment that the boys from Brad Jones Racing – Todd Hazelwood and Nick Percat – lined up on the front row of the grid.
Jones would have been happy if the race had finished at the first corner, with his cars running 1-2, but eventually they were overhauled by more pacy rivals and only managed fifth and seventh.
There were plenty of battle groups and varying strategies, but McLaughlin was looking like a winner after an early stop – until Anton De Pasquale crashed heavily to bring out the Safety Car. The 39-lap contest became a 10-lap sprint and, apart from the Bulls, Scott Pye was sensational as he improved 11 spots to 6th and James Courtney almost made it into the Top 10 with his Boost Mustang.
Van Gisbergen finished with twin wins, after giving Roland Dane and Triple Eight their 200th victory earlier in the day, and was pumped by his success.
“What an awesome race. I had a great car,” says van Gisbergen.
“Big battle at the end, tried to do the team thing to help Jamie. It worked out really cool, with some fun racing and great battles.”
Whincup, who stole a handful of championship points from McLaughlin but still trails by 143, was also happy
“We run a two-car team. Today, if anything, it was a help in running a two-car team instead of a one-plus-on,” says Whincup.
Race 24: 39 laps
|1||Shane van Gisbergen|