Scott McLaughlin was crowned Bathurst champion for the first time in his career on Sunday afternoon, along with his teammate Alex Premat, but the actions of his other teammate were branded “disgraceful”.
The safety car completed nearly the same number of laps as some of the drivers in a dramatic race and it was what happened as it retreated back to the pits following the crash of American wildcard Alexander Rossi on lap 134 that caused the most controversy.
With McLaughlin stuck in an epic battle with Jamie Whincup, his teammate in the No.12 car Fabian Coulthard took one for the team by holding up the rest of the field while the No.17 car gained a track advantage on his rivals.
McLaughlin is Bathurst champion for the first time in his career
One of the cars held up was that of Shane van Gisbergen, who eventually finished second in the Great Race, crossing the chequered flag less than a second behind McLaughlin in a tense final lap.
Coulthard was punished for his actions with a pitlane penalty but the damage was done, with Van Gisbergen and others left well off the pace of McLaughlin.
“I just got told they didn’t know where the incident was and to take extreme caution,” Coulthard explained afterwards. “You take extreme caution under a safety car and I did what I was told.”
However, his actions were branded “disgraceful” by Supercars legend Larry Perkins, who texted on-air reporter Neil Crompton during the race to express his disappointment with Coulthard and Shell V-Power’s sportsmanship.
Coulthard’s engineer was telling him to “slow down” repeatedly as he was unaware where the incident which flagged the safety car while Van Gisbergen bemoaned the Mustang was going “stupidly slow”.
However, team boss Ryan Story insisted there was a problem with overheating of the car, which wasn’t voiced over the radio at the time.
“There’s a bit more gamesmanship than we thought,” said Mark Skaife after the race.
“Everybody’s responsibility is to slow down, but what he is really saying to Fabian isn’t about the car overheating or anything else, [he’s saying] ‘there’s debris on the road’ and he was trying in that scenario to come up with a plausible reason for why Fabian backed it up that far.
“Clearly he was doing it because he didn’t want to double stack when he got to the pit area, but you can hear Shane van Gisbergen was not a very happy camper.:
Whether or not it made a difference at all in the end is a different matter given there were plenty more safety cars still to come, but McLaughlin will be sure to buy his teammate a beer at the celebrations afterwards.
Supercars driving standards advisor Baird admitted he was wrong to penalise De Pasquale in the Saturday primary drivers sprint race, with the Penrite Racing young gun wiped out at Turn 1 by Shane van Gisbergen.
Van Gisbergen slid into the side of De Pasquale in slippery conditions, with both cars spinning. De Pasquale recovered to the fringe of the top 10, while van Gisbergen crawled back to the pits into retirement.
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Surprisingly, De Pasquale was hit with a driving infringement, and took it immediately and dropped to last, before finishing 13th.
The quick decision by Baird to hand De Pasquale a drive-through penalty flummoxed many, including Skaife, who in commentary quipped he was “watching a different race”.
It also surprised van Gisbergen, who admitted complete fault for the on-track incident: “I just saw they gave Anton a drive-through, I can’t believe that. It’s 100 per cent on me, clear as day.”
Speaking on Fox Sports’ The Loud Pedal podcast, Skaife said once the penalty was applied, De Pasquale was doomed, with no way possible for drivers to be placed back in the pecked order should a penalty be rescinded, especially after it had already been taken.
“You can’t fix it. You can’t reinsert him into the field … you just can’t do it,” Skaife said.
“There were two major things to come out of it. Firstly, Shane admitting the mistake. For me, that was a really honourable, sportsmanlike and respectful way of saying, ‘hey, I put my hand up, I made a mistake here’.
“We couldn’t believe what had unfolded, we couldn’t understand how Anton could be penalised for it. I think I said in the race that I must’ve been watching a different race.”
SVG’s late-race failure
However, both Skaife and Holdsworth sympathised for New Zealander Baird, who took up the DSA role ahead of the 2017 season.
“For Craig to put his hand up and say ‘hey, I made a mistake’, I think that is really good. He is the best person we’ve had in that role, probably ever,” Skaife continued.
“It knocked him around, and there’s a lot of pride in the way Bairdo applies himself in this thing, and for him to make a mistake, it really knocked him around. I like that too, because it means something.
“The biggest thing out of it, is drivers have to accept it’s a bloody hard job. It’s not a job anyone wants.
“You go down pit lane and see who puts their hand up for it. There’d be doughnuts.”
“There are ways we would hope that’s not going to happen again, because you’d hate for it to happen to you” Holdsworth added.
“The way looking forward is to look at all angles, take a bit more time before you make the call.
“To have that much respect in that position, after two years of being in that position, I think shows what sort of job he’s doing. He’s doing a brilliant job, the consistency has been great.”
“A couple of things that people haven’t really got right, is when you consider the overall engine regulations, our engine regulations are outstanding,” the Fox Sports expert commentator said.
“The way that engine regulations have promulgated over a long period, we’ve got to a point where engine performance car to car, manufacturer to manufacturer, is so close it’s unbelievable. The transparency around it is fantastic, the ESD is really well done.
“All the podium engines were checked, so cars 97, 888, 22, 12 and 17 by two [engines for qualifying and race] … all checked, and none of them were outside the window of performance.
“In terms of their engine output, no one breached the rule. When 17’s qualifying engine was then stripped [after Gold Coast] then they found the anomaly.
“The biggest single point is, I’m sure the intention was for that not to be a breach.”
Although the engine breach and team orders incidents were out of McLaughlin’s hands, Skaife admitted the Kiwi’s historic win is scarred.
“I feel sorry for Scotty in some ways, because [the Bathurst win] sort of has this tainted feel to it,” he said.
“The thing with Fabian was obviously one issue … although those issues aren’t linked, people easily say, ‘what happened there, what happened there?’
“They’re not even in the same postcode, but they’re still joined up at some point when some people start to consider their performance.”
Skaife revealed he spoke with McLaughlin afterwards, and expects him to celebrate the title few could deny him, having claimed a record 18 wins for the season.
“I did [speak to him off-air] and we’ve been exchanging texts all week,” Skaife said.
“It’s a situation around a teams’ issue, not Scott’s, and for Scott to balance this is really important.
“One of the fundamentals about our sport is that you take the highs and the lows, and you enjoy them as a consequence as Scott’s been operating this year, no one can deny how well he’s driven.
“He’s got better and better and better, and at the end of the day, he’s got to go to Newcastle and come away with a smile on his face.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how he approaches it, and I’m looking forward to having a beer with him afterwards, because he needs to celebrate.”
Not one person will wipe a smile off me or my teams face, we have fun, living the dream competing at the highest level in our sport. Bring on Newcastle and a fun weekend! Thanks for your support! 🏆x2 #2pack#VASCpic.twitter.com/BXUdJOiybP
However, the Tickford driver conceded the two scandals have “made a mockery” of this year’s Bathurst event.
“My initial reaction was that it’s terrible … the worst part of it all is that the penalty was served after the round,” Holdsworth said.
“It’s no fault of anyone’s that it was served after, because we don’t have the resources and time to be able to do those things at the race meeting. The fact that he still started on pole [at Bathurst] but he didn’t get pole, it doesn’t really make sense.
“Did it affect the race? I don’t know, it affected where he started, obviously. Especially with the other scrutiny they’d been through with the Bathurst race, it’s made a bit of a mockery of it.
“It’s hard to be that harsh on them because … [the engine] could well have been legal before they started qualifying, and before they had the overheating.”
However, for all his 2019 troubles – which include no top 10 finishes and a broken back – nothing could deny rivals and media standing to applaud the retiring Lorenzo at the end of his press conference ahead of the season finale at Valencia.
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In 18 years of Grand Prix motorcycle racing, Lorenzo took home five world championships and 68 wins, with his success far outweighing the drama which has plagued him since he left Yamaha.
Speaking to a packed press room, Lorenzo said it was “very difficult” to choose one standout moment, admitting he “lived a lot of very good moments”. He eventually settled on the day he clinched his maiden MotoGP crown at Sepang in 2010, declaring he had “achieved the most important title that any rider in the world can achieve … this gave me a lot of freedom, a lot of satisfaction, and I was free, professionally.”
He also touched on his maiden 125cc win in 2003, his first 250cc title in 2006, and his 2010 premier class crown as other career highlights.
However, it was an accident in Assen in 2013 which paved the way to perhaps his greatest test of character, and one which proved how tough he has been – as well as providing insight into how battered his body was at times across his career.
During practice at the Dutch TT six years ago, Lorenzo broke his left collarbone in a heavy fall. In a bid to race, he flew to Barcelona on the same day, was operated on in the early hours of the next morning – having a titanium plate and eight screws inserted into the bone – before returning to the Holland circuit in the afternoon.
Having been fastest after practice times were combined, he was forced to start 12th after he missed Q2. Somehow, he passed fitness tests the next morning, took part in the race and finished fifth.
It was remarkable. Just 48 hours after suffering the injury, and a scarcely-believable 36 hours after the surgery, he took to the circuit and still vaulted seven places forward to keep his title hopes alive.
“My top five would be my first victory in Brazil 2003, my first world title in Valencia 2006, then obviously the first MotoGP title,” he said.
“I would put also Assen 2013, because I did something incredible that shows how the mind can push the body to the limits.
“And then probably my last world title, here at Valencia in 2015.”
In his speech on Thursday, Lorenzo admitted injuries across the last 18 months locked him in a battle with his own subconscious as the tricky RC213V proved too difficult to handle.
He suffered a subcapital fracture of the second metatarsal on his right foot, and a dislocated tow, in a first-lap crash on the Ducati at Aragon in 2018. Two weeks later at Buriram, he busted his left wrist, with scaphoid trouble hindering his progress on the Honda this season.
Assen again bit hard in June, with Lorenzo fracturing two vertebrae in a fast FP1 crash. He would miss four races, but when he returned, he couldn’t recover any momentum he had gained as Repsol Honda teammate Marc Marquez strolled to the title.
“Unfortunately, injuries came soon to play an important role in my season, being unable to ride in normal physical conditions,” he said.
“This, plus a bike that never felt natural to me, makes races very difficult. Anyway, I never lost the patience and I kept fighting, just thinking that was simply a matter of time and that after all things would get into the right place.
“But, as I started to see some light I had this bad crash at the Montmelo test, and some weeks later that ugly one in Assen. At that point I had to admit, that when I stopped rolling into the gravel, the first thought that came into my mind was ‘What am I doing here? Is this really worth it? I’m done with it.’
“Some days later after reflecting a lot about my life and career I decided to give it a try. I wanted to be sure I was not making an early decision.”