Sometimes in sport, as in life, getting a second opportunity is few and far between. So when the final race of the Virgin Australia V8 Supercars Championship was within reach for Scott McLaughlin, he grabbed it with both hands.
Known as ‘the Kid’ up until the flag dropped at the Coates Hire Newcastle 500, when he can now be rightly called Champ!
And after the near-championship season lost opportunity in 2017 was lost, when leading the series ahead of the chasing pack, the Kiwi driver drove hard and fast, to secure his maiden title; in his sixth season of fulltime racing in the V8 Supercars series.
Grabbing the win is how to describe the method of how Scott McLaughlin won the 2018 Championship. He was one of the quickest all year, claiming 12 pole positions across a 31 race calendar – that is more than a one-in-three ratio. And McLaughlin converted those 31 races into nine victories, to achieve his dream.
— Scott McLaughlin (@smclaughlin93) November 25, 2018
And even though he finished second in the final race of the season, his drive to succeed has almost always seen the DJR Team Penske driver pushing hard – which is always the best way to claim any season win. On top of the world, and difficult to defeat.
Scott McLaughlin v Shane van Gisbergen; the Modern V8 Duel
Speaking more of the second opportunity that Scott McLaughlin had enjoyed – when improving on the second place in the 2017 Championship – it must be balanced with his nearest rival for this year; Shane van Gisbergen.
From the outset, the Kiwi drivers butted heads on the race track. The fast, and especially good qualifier in McLaughlin, up against the audacious and hard-driving van Gisbergen. In a classic Ford v Holden battle, it had all the makings of a season to behold. It that would ring true, right up to the penultimate race in Newcastle.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) November 25, 2018
Some will see the Saturday race as a precursor to how close this title fight would become. The Red Bull Holden Racing driver needed to end the race in front of the Championship leading McLaughlin, and on the day, van Gisbergen achieved his objective. A flag fall victory, standing at the top of the podium and receiving all the smiles from fans and applause from opposition alike. He looked to be making it a real final finale, with little separating the rivals.
It appeared that the thin lead held by McLaughlin; whom finished the Saturday race in second place, meant the Sunday race was all important….that was, up until a Race Stewards inquiry into a fuel stop infringement escalated into a 25-second penalty handed down. That ruling promoted the series leaders Championship chances.
Championship ramifications? HUGE!
A pitstop penalty sees Shane van Gisbergen stripped of Race 30 victory in Newcastle, with new race winner Scott McLaughlin widening his championship lead. #VASC
— Sporting News Australia (@sportingnewsau) November 25, 2018
From hero, to zero. That was the honest feeling of the challenger, as he found that after an entire season of racing, his chance was diminished. And for McLaughlin, the reward of consistent results would prove that on Sunday, he now only needed to finish in sixth place (if van Gisbergen were to win) to hold on for the title.
Yet, knowing the driver, he was sure that he would drive as hard as he could [naturally].
Their continued rivalry tough, is one that is likely to continue for years to come. A professional respect exists, but like a Senna-Prost, or Schumacher-Damon Hill rivalry, it will be one where Shane McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen will fight for the title over the short term future [at least] to the best of their abilities.
Even while others would also be a threat; with David Reynolds and Jamie Whincup ever present at the head of the field, the prospective champion needed to solidify his place on ‘his own terms’. No sitting back to protect a lead – McLaughlin did what he had done all year; qualified well, on the front row (beside pole-sitter Reynolds).
Race 31, Sunday November 25
After the emotional tributes for Craig Lowndes had subdued, all the drivers readied themselves for one last battle. The Newcastle street circuit had few areas to pass, so the race start was pivotal. Although, even with a championship up for the taking, the ‘racer’ in Scott McLaughlin, meant he aggressively took a stranglehold on this race early.
Leading Reynolds and watching in his rearview, as van Gisbergen was unable to gain any headway past fourth position. It was pleasing for the Shell V-Power teams’ main stakeholders; Dick Johnson and Roger Penske, who have invested so much in the category and in the driving talent of Scott McLaughlin. For them to see him on the cusp of achieving his dream, must have been a special moment.
— Macquarie Sports Radio (@MacquarieSport) November 26, 2018
In fact, over the years where Dick Johnson had driven for Ford, and was now a team owner, his DJR team had achieved many drivers titles. And as the laps evaporated, he could see that McLaughlin might be the most recent success story…one story that was about the end. The Falcon model facing its final season as the model that represented the Blue Oval.
The laps eroded, and while Reynolds made a final assault on the lead, the smart option was ‘not to risk any racing issues’ and McLaughlin respected the wishes of Roger Penske, to allow the Erebus Penrite Racing driver to pass. It meant that McLaughlin only stood on the second place of the podium, but his smile soon grew wider, as he was officially named the 2018 Virgin Australia V8 Supercars series champion.
A proven race car driver, and one who can now admit to ‘learning from past lessons’ to achieve an 18-year career; from Karts, up through the categories, the Dunlop Series and on to his years as a fulltime driver. One who was always full of promise, but could not show consistency.
2018 is his answer to all the critics. To show that 2017 was no aberration. Successfully negotiating a full calendar, maintaining a championship lead for the majority, and reaching a crescendo, with his finish on Sunday earned him a popular victory. He puts his name alongside other Kiwi drivers to claim a series title, and from this stage – the future is clearly in the hands of Scott McLaughlin, and his prodigious talent.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images