In 26 races of the 2017 Virgin Supercars Championship, this last round has seen one of the closest finishes in recent memory, in the renowned Australian motorsport category. Right up to the final lap, the leader board was only single points apart, but Jamie Whincup takes the Championship and the applause.
Whincup and his Red Bull Holden Racing team had to work extremely hard for it though, after a frenetic race 25 on Saturday that saw challenger Scott McLaughlin take a 78 point lead into this Sunday race.
The result in the end was hard work for both, due to a combination of the street circuit, safety cars, team strategies and ultimately driver mistakes. Although, Jamie Whincup was his usual pinpoint-precision race car driver.
The master of sticking his Holden in the right part of the track, he fully recovered from a disasters of Saturday. Hitting the wall, it made his Red Bull Holden Racing teams job very difficult. But when it came to the crunch, Whincup is your 2017 champion!
A 'sit down' 1+1 interview with 2017 @supercars champion @jamiewhincup coming up @FOXSportsNews 'I wish there were 2 champions… I'll enjoy this one, it might be my last'. #VASC pic.twitter.com/5KAryBtTMY
— Chris Stubbs (@ChrisKStubbs) November 26, 2017
As the day would pan out, he settled into the lead position (as usual). Setting the pace for others to try to knock him off the top of the leader board – as the majority of the action, occurred far, far behind him.
Sunday Delivers an exciting Finish to the 2017 Championship
After a season of highs, Scott McLaughlin was on course to achieve his dream. Leading on points, he then qualified quickest to earn pole position. It seemed like the stars were aligning themselves. But as it transpired, McLaughlin in fact caused much of the trouble on Sunday for himself.
Three times he was guilty of breaching race rules, and each compounded to affect the final positions on the race track. A case of nerves possibly, but if analyzed, the mistakes cost him a championship if he had just been less bold, and not created issues for himself.
The championship; which had started in March, reached it’s zenith on the streets of Newcastle (north of Sydney) and the action left fans and teams out of breath. Watching, Last Word on Motorsport’s Scott Hornell was both ecstatic and perplexed as the race ended in such controversial fashion.
Scott McLaughlin Creates His Own Errors at Newcastle
Take nothing away from Jamie Whincup, but three incidents at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 would see the young challenger apply pressure upon himself, more than any other driver has before.
Technical infringements first cost the Kiwi his place near the top of the field. Entering the pit lane too fast, he did not reduce his speed to 40 kilometers an hour, and was handed a drive-through penalty. A minute difference in speed, a more careful approach or adjusted braking bias can cost plenty. So after driving slowly past his garage, he began a climb back-up the field. And that was where more trouble would affect his race.
The second biggest mistake of the race for the Kiwi driver, involved the Nissan of driver Simona De Silvestro. De Silvestro had been making some sublime overtaking moves, using her tactic of short-gear changes in one passing area in particular. Looking like having a fine drive herself, McLaughlin came up too fast and pressed too hard in trying to take a position.
— The Caution Clock ⚠️ (@CautionClock20) November 26, 2017
He poorly brushed the Nissan driver off the road, and was rightly called to order. A 15 second penalty was handed down; which the Shell V Power team smartly applied after a pit stop.
Heart Stopping Moments Over the Course of 95 Laps
Whincup, happily now led the race after team orders saw 2016 champion Shane van Gisbergen let his team mate through. The leader could not have imagined what would happen in the 94th lap.
Other drivers had sat in the places ahead of McLaughlin, while Jamie Whincup was cruising. That was a positive for the Holden driver–the men in places from 10th on, were also driving the Holden brand. Team and manufacturer/engine makers are a loyal group, so minor elements of ‘politics’ would also be thrown into the race-mix.
Each place behind the leader, was a place that McLaughlin needed to make up. His quest to build championship points to help him achieve his maiden championship meant an overtaking manoeuvre was required. Whincup had a 12 point lead, in provisional placings if McLaughlin didn’t finish any higher. Each place was three equivalent points closer to a tile.
At times, heart stopping action as Chaz Mostert, James Courtney and Garth Tander all made it difficult for the DJR Team Penske driver.
“He’s gotta win it, this is not a charity. We want to see a race.”
That was the response from Gary Rogers, who had been a team owner for Scott McLaughlin when the New Zealand driver first entered Supercars. His GRM driver Garth Tander was bound to make it difficult for the championship contender. And ultimately, ahead of him, James Moffat would play a part in holding up the Kiwis drive up the field too.
Moffat Overtaking Effort Causes Carnage in Newcastle
If watching the race, many could have thought that McLaughlin could have been afforded a smoother ride to his title–but even old friend James Moffat was hindering his efforts. The Ford driver ended up passing the Holden, but with a fast-finishing Craig Lowndes also wanting to prevent the DJR Team Penske driver any room, it made for breathless racing.
On the final lap, with Whincup ready to cross the line first, if McLaughlin held 11th place, he would have the championship. Having far more race wins than Whincup, if they both ended on 3039 points, McLaughlin would hold the title (due to race wins). The pressure was on Scott McLaughlin to earn his first title–but Lowndes could assist his Triple 88 Motorsport former partner, Whincup.
You can't script this.
— Supercars (@supercars) November 26, 2017
The fact it came down to this incident, does prove that the Kiwi was ‘only just able to’ make an attempt. Proof enough that he was floundering under the pressure, but as seen in the video above, it was a cruel way to end a championship.
After tangling with Lowndes, the race controller deemed that car #17 had pushed car #888 into the concrete barrier. An assumption, but the controversy only clouded the result for Scott McLaughlin. As the Kiwi driver wilted, the six-time champion stood ever taller, and celebrated a milestone in his career.
Seven-Time Supercars Champion: Jamie Whincup
“We fought hard, we didn’t have the quickest car all year. But it’s all about team work, and sport is all mental”. Jamie Whincup was referring to the psychological challenges of the day. In one day, or over the 26 race series. 15 podium finishes across the calendar, with four race wins to his name.
A long hard year, with it’s challengers, that the six-time Champ managed to succeed against. All on the very last lap of the 2017 Virgin Supercars Championship.
“I’m wrapped. I couldn’t be happier.”
And who could not blame him. A nail-biter of a race, a closely fought year and he managed to outclass the pretenders to his throne. McLaughlin will surely be ready to conquer that battle in years to come].
“To the car #17 crew, they absolutely stepped up to give us an unbelievable fight. Commiserations to them….no doubt Scotty will go and win eight in a row”. These thoughtful comments from Whincup in recognition of the closeness of the championship victory. And also of the promise that Scott McLaughlin has in V8 Supercars future.
This season, like last year, the 2017 Virgin Supercars Championship came down to the wire. And like in the Bathurst 1000 races of late, the margins are ‘slimmer than ever’. A race win can be crucial. Though as shown on the streets of Newcastle, bad luck/misfortune can still change the places right up until the chequered flag has fallen.
Full standings can be found on the Supercars.com website.
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