The 2019 edition of the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 had it all.
Thrills, controversy, and strong competition.
So many storylines came into the event, but in the end, the fastest car and combination all weekend won on the day.
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Regardless, another Bathurst classic left us bemoaning the fact that there are 51 weeks until the next one comes around.
Here are five things we learned from the 2019 Great Race.
The (wrong) talking point
The chatter should have been centred on be the historic Scott McLaughlin/Alex Premat victory. In the eyes of many, it was.
Other teams, should they have been in the same position, would have made the same call that the DJR Team Penske squad did with Fabian Coulthard, with an eye on track position and the avoidance of double-stacking.
Simply, it just wasn’t a good look.
The battle all day was raging, it was close, and it didn’t need that obstruction, but track position is everything. Coulthard was branded a “sacrificial lamb” by Shane van Gisbergen, who missed the win by just 0.6799s despite being better off on fuel when he was held up. However, Coulthard was the one that was penalised on the day, and now we’ll see if officials can determine a breach of team order regulations. Penalties could be wide ranging, but don’t expect the #17 to lose its victory — even if rivals argue otherwise. McLaughlin thought little of the drama at all, celebrating the biggest day of his career.
So what needs to change? Should Safety Car intervention trigger the closure of the pit lane? Should Supercars look to bring in a Virtual Safety Car-like system? Like we found out in Auckland, the Safety Car is a gamechanger, but things can go sour very quickly. The show is the important thing, but so is safety — don’t forget, Jamie Whincup and McLaughlin bolted at race speed to the lane despite the Safety Car deployment — but so is an outcome that doesn’t leave a stain on an otherwise sensational race.
McLaughlin a class above
The first Bathurst winner from pole position in 10 years, the #17 Mustang was the class of the field all weekend. However, while Frenchman Premat proved his mettle against the full-timers to eventually create history for himself and his nation, it was the reigning series champion’s weekend to prove why he entered the weekend with a 598-point lead in the championship.
Thursday, lap record broken. Same on Friday, and again in Saturday’s Top 10 Shootout, the pressure cooker to end all pressure cookers. However, while McLaughlin was on the money when it came to single-lap pace, his racecraft also helped he and Premat get it done.
Late in the race, for so long, he stared at the rear bumper of Jamie Whincup’s #888 Red Bull entry before the Holden squad gambled with a fuel stop at a late Safety Car. Concurrently, DJR Team Penske gambled and left McLaughlin out. Pressure on big time for 26-year-old McLaughlin. Rolling the dice worked in the end in a race that was about track position, but that final lap — to hang onto the lead in the face of unrivalled pressure — was proof of McLaughlin’s unbreakable mental fortitude.
Unfair to point finger at Fabs
Take one look at form, and it’s clear Coulthard isn’t currently operating at a level higher than McLaughlin. To be fair, no one is. Coulthard is third in the championship. He is 787 points down on his teammate. McLaughlin, who continues to flex his muscle, has 18 wins and 15 poles in 2019. Coulthard has two wins and one pole. In nearly three seasons together, McLaughlin has taken 35 wins to Coulthard’s seven, and 42 poles to Coulthard’s two. Coulthard is locked in alongside McLaughlin for 2020, but it is truly is a case of the younger teammate being a class above.
So, it’s easy to frame the drama from Sunday as the team sacrificing the #12 as McLaughlin was the lead car, which encouraged van Gisbergen’s quip.
But quickfire criticism of Coulthard himself — even though he followed orders from the pit lane — was unfair. Far too many, including those on social media, flung turds his way. Coulthard is no mug. He is a very good driver, but he’s up against a very very good teammate in a very good team. Through it all, he had a right to feel upset.
Regardless, when asked after the race whether Coulthard “took one for the team”, DJRTP co-owner Roger Penske — who discussed McLaughlin’s US aspirations — downplayed the drama: “I’m not sure that made the difference in who was going to win the race,” he said. “We can look at it, and talk about, but it’s secondary as far as I’m concerned when you think about what happened at the end. Everybody had a chance. The two top guys had a chance to duel there at the end.”
Parity debate takes a back seat, for now
High speed, slow speed, long straights, aero turns. Mount Panorama had all the makings of the rebirth of the parity storm. However, there was little between the Mustang, Commodore and Altima all weekend. Notably, Andre Heimgartner plonked his Nissan in the 2:03s in practice, a mark which is reserved for those that can get car and driver in complete synergy alongside their highly fancied rivals.
The factory Holden cars were strong all race and both were in with a massive shot of winning. While strategy perhaps cost the #888 the win late — hindsight is a wonderful thing, and who could have predicted the later Safety Car — the speed was there, and highly competitive. Whether it was worth rolling the dice late in the race will keep the team’s strategists up for nights on end, but both cars could have won that race — but not unless McLaughlin didn’t prove as clinical as he did on Lap 161.
Meanwhile, Walkinshaw Andretti United were rewarded with a podium for James Courtney and Jack Perkins. From the outside, they were in all sorts, but the speed was clear at the end from the #22 to keep Whincup at bay.
The racing was robust and there was lots of overtaking. Cars were able to slipstream comfortably down Conrod Straight, so any fears of a difficult race to pass in were happily negated. Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of the ‘P’ word this season, and the next, and beyond, with Supercars committing to a reduction of downforce from 2020.
When Chaz Mostert waltzed by Premat on Lap 50 for the lead, the Tickford garage could have been forgiven for getting excited. However, for the third Bathurst running, and for the second time in two events this season, the teammates got in each other’s way.
The team has failed to prevent these clashes from happening. It’s all well and good to see cars from the same stable race hard and fair, but these are not isolated incidents. Mostert was remorseful, while Cameron Waters was gutted, and rightfully so. Team boss Tim Edwards believes his men can race door-to-door, and refused to prevent them from doing so in future. But measures should be taken if they want to win, because they can — and could have on Sunday.
Mostert appeared to renege on fuel saving instructions, and lost control on the outside of Waters into The Chase, which would prove a race flashpoint. Maybe s**t happens, but the #6 and #55 were two of the fastest cars all day. Mostert, despite being off the lead lap at the end, annihilated the previous race lap record. They only have themselves to blame.