Chaz Mostert and James Moffat start alongside the #17 Shell Mustang, with the #55 Supercheap Auto Racing Mustang looming as the pole-winning duo’s great threat.
There are several key runners down the order, including the Red Bull Holden Racing Team entries from fourth and fifth on the grid, Fabian Coulthatrd/Tony D’Alberto from 16th, and David Reynolds/ Luke Youlden from 22nd.
Anything is possible at Mount Panorama, so expect surprises. Lots of them.
Faster, and faster, and faster. That has been the tone of the weekend for Scott McLaughlin.
The Shell V-Power Racing driver claimed a record-breaking pole position for the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 on Saturday, and the plaudits quickly ran in after he gapped his closest rival by a whopping four tenths.
However, attention again turned to the fact that McLaughlin has never won the race itself. Already, the narrative is there, the 26-year-old firming for another crack at the race he holds so dear.
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Few can deny McLaughlin’s talent — already in 2019, he has taken a record 17 wins, and is firming to break his own mark of poles in a season. However, for all his accolades, and for all his speed, the win at Mount Panorama remains elusive on his decorated CV.
At Mount Panorama, all week, the expectation was that McLaughlin would take pole. Never mind the margin — he would simply take pole, as though it was written in the stars.
However, fearing the circuit had lost grip following third-out Cameron Waters’ lap, McLaughlin was under pressure to execute to the conditions.
Like he had done so many times, he did, and put 0.41s on Chaz Mostert and 0.53s on Waters.
For a younger McLaughlin in 2017, following his initial record-breaking lap, it was as though he had won on Saturday when he celebrated wildly on the pit wall, only for reality to hit home when the #17 was the race’s first retirement barely halfway through.
Two months later, after McLaughlin hit the nadir of his career in Newcastle when the title slipped away in controversial circumstances, he enlisted a mind coach to get him to the next level.
“Comparing it to myself, maybe 18 months ago or so, I feel like I believe in my ability a lot more,” he said after the Shootout.
“I know I can do these things. I know I can win races when I have a car up the front.
“Back in the day, I was more worried about the getting the car off the line and the start of the race, rather than executing throughout the whole race.
“I’ve certainly turned it around the last few years.”
Taking that next step means being ruthless with racecraft. That streak has somewhat been concealed as he starts from pole more often than not, but in a fight, and with a Bathurst win on the line, all signs indicate McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat will be difficult to beat in the race.
But this is Bathurst — the race isn’t won on Saturday.
Mclaughlin’s weather woes
Regardless, copping questions over his ability to finally win the race which has eluded him, McLaughlin admitted the pressure is on.
“I’m confident in my ability. We’ve all got a pretty massive ego, we have to as drivers,” he said.
“I believe when I’ve got the car, and when I’ve got the team, I can put the thing on pole or be close to it.
“I understand that it’s up to me; there are ten blokes that put the car together, but there’s one bloke — me — that has to wring the hell out of it.
“I feel like I can do that better than anyone, more often than not. I feel like I’ve got the mentality to do that.”
Last month, McLaughlin reiterated to foxsports.com.authat Bathurst is everything, but the sustained period of dominance has made him realise how important the team aspect is, and why he wouldn’t trade his 17 wins in for the big one.
That attitude was again present on Saturday, with a more measured McLaughlin keeping his emotions in check.
While Sunday looms as a career-defining day, his approach is now the same as every other race — even if the weight of the occasion is greater than any other.
“We all go the fastest we can with whatever we have,” he said.
“I just wanna know that on the day, I’m the fastest, and that I have the best spot to start the Great Race.
“It’s 10 years since someone won it from pole, so we just have to get on with it and use our position.
“What will be will be. I’ve come here trying to enjoy the weekend.
“Mum says it’s like Christmas, but not everyone gets a present.
“I’m going to wake up like it’s Christmas and be excited for it, and just get after it like everyone else will.”
Waters was the first to break the 2:04s barrier in the session with a 2:03.9501, before McLaughlin just missed out to slot in 0.0348s behind.
However, the championship leader didn’t stay down for long, McLaughlin putting up a 2:03.6965s to put 0.2536s on Waters.
However, as the session ticked down, the #55 Supercheap Auto Racing Mustang was on rails. Mostert ragged the neck of his Ford across the top, and brought home the second-fastest lap ever — a 2:03.5089s — to put one over McLaughlin.
The two went toe-to-toe in the wet on Friday, and have been the most consistent drivers all week.