A dramatic Bathurst 1000 ended in single-lap dash, and a win for Scott McLaughlin, Alex Premat and team owners Roger Penske and Dick Johnson.
In a race that was running to an exciting climax, with four contenders variously saving fuel or charging after late pit stops, McLaughlin’s Ford Mustang held off Shane van Gisbergen (Holden Commodore) to take his maiden Bathurst victory.
The race was decided over a single lap, after Andre Haimgartner crashed his Nissan with three laps to go, prompting the race’s eighth and final safety car period. After eking out his fuel range for so long, McLaughlin held on by 0.68s to give Penske his first win, and Johnson his first in 25 years.
“I can’t believe I won the bloody Bathurst 1000!” said the 26-year-old Supercars champion, who also leads this year’s points. “We had such a good car all week. We put so much pressure on all week. I have dreamt about this, and this guy [Premat]…”
“He was gambling, gambling,” grinned Las Vegas-based Premat.
For Penske, adding a win to his IndyCar successes and IMSA championship title on the same weekend at Petit Le Mans, was a bonus.
“It’s one off our Bucket List now. What a champion,” he said.
In second place, van Gisbergen — who co-drove with veteran and former winner Garth Tander — came back after an early setback.
“Well done to the winners, their car was fast all week,” said SVG. “I’ll keep trying, I have a lot of years left!”
James Courtney took advantage of brilliant pit strategy to take third with co-driver, Jack Perkins. Courtney, who is splitting with his team at the end of the season, rewarded team owners Ryan Walkinshaw, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown, in spite of driving a number of laps with a damaged wheel after he hit a wall.
“More good luck that good management!” Courtney admitted. “We were pushing hard, and we had to double-stack in the pits a few times. ”
In fourth place was one of the stories of the race. Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes were in contention all day, and Whincup led the race with 11 laps remaining. He dashed into the pitlane for a quick splash of fuel, but once back up to speed failed to gain another position.
David Reynolds somehow managed to make it to fifth despite several setbacks. It was a great result for Erebus Motorsport, the 2017 winner and co-driver Luke Youlden coming back after running off the road twice.
Teammate Anton de Pasquale had pit speed limiter problems early in the race and any chance of salvaging a result ended when his throttle stuck open and speared his Holden into a concrete wall.
Fabian Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto were sixth in the other DJR Team Penske Ford, a controversial result. Coulthard had to serve a drive-through penalty after stewards deemed he had ‘backed up’ the field under yellow flags, to save him from ‘stacking’ in the pitlane.
The race took a long time to get going — literally. The start was delayed after Brodie Kostecki’s car stopped on the formation lap when the driver was overcome with engine fumes.
Then on the opening lap, Tim Slade’s Holden hit the wall at the fifth corner of the race. It took a while to clear the mess, but the next 100 laps were yellow free, the front-runners running at record pace.
McLaughlin and Whincup were at or close to the front for much of the race, but for many of the other contenders, it was a tough Sunday. Tickford Racing had three cars in podium contention mid-race, but two of them went out in the same incident.
Chaz Mostert was following teammate Cam Waters but inexplicably challenged at The Chase, the two Fords spearing off the track and into the sand. Both cars suffered severe damage and the clash further deepens the rift between the drivers, who have clashed on-track before — as recently as last month in New Zealand.
In all the excitement of winning the biggest race in the country, it was almost unnoticed that McLaughlin extended his lead in the drivers’ championship to 622 points, better than two rounds’ lead. He looks almost unbeatable in his bid to take a second successive title, with racing resuming on the streets of Surfers Paradise for the Gold Coast 600 in two weeks’ time.
TOP 10 RESULTS:
1) Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat, Ford Mustang, DJR Team Penske, 6h27m51.5260s
2) Garth Tander/Shane van Gisbergen, Holden Commodore, Red Bull HRT, +0.6800s
3) Jack Perkins/James Courtney, Holden Commodore, Walkinshaw Andretti United, +1.8769s
4) Craig Lowndes/Jamie Whincup, Holden Commodore, Red Bull HRT, +2.6699s
5) David Reynolds/Luke Youlden, Holden Commodore, Erebus Motorsport, +3.6431s
6) Fabian Coulthard/Tony D’Alberto, Ford Mustang, DJR Team Penske, +4.0686s
7) Mark Winterbottom/Steven Richards, Holden Commodore, Schwerkolt/Team 18, +5.6227s
8) Scott Pye/Warren Luff, Holden Commodore, Walkinshaw Andretti United, +6.6088s
9) Rick Kelly/Dale Wood, Nissan Altima, Kelly Racing, +6.6733s
10) Lee Holdsworth/Michael Caruso, Ford Mustang, Tickford Racing, +6.9839s
Fastest lap: Chaz Mostert (Ford) on lap 155, 2m04.7602s (new record)