Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat of DJR Team Penske during the Vodafone Gold Coast 600, at the Surfers Paradise , Gold Coast, Queensland, October 22, 2017.
The Gold Coast 600 is the final event of the Pirtek Enduro Cup, and would prove to be a challenging one for Shell V-Power Racing Team, before a triumphant return to form on Sunday.
Friday practice rolled by with little fanfare, as the team worked to tune the cars in typical warm, dry Gold Coast conditions. Car 12 rolled out of the truck in good order, with both Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto reasonably comfortable around the streets of Surfers Paradise. The first session was spent on systems checks and running old tyres to dial in the race car. Focus switched as Tony took the wheel for practice two, to finish third among the co-drivers, before Fabian jumped in for the last practice of the weekend. He fell foul of the kerb sensors on the chicanes, losing a couple of his faster lap times as a result.
The car 17 crew worked together in practice to assist Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat to get more comfortable across the day. McLaughlin was in the top five in opening practice, before Alex had a stint in practice two. He lost a few fast lap times thanks to kerb strikes, however the team knew the chassis tuning was heading in the right direction. In the final session McLaughlin was in the top few cars across the whole session, and ended the day fourth, two-hundreths of a second outside the top three.
Saturday dawned and the weather was dire, with torrential rain lashing the circuit. It would prove to be a tough day for Shell V-Power Racing. Qualifying and the race were held in very wet conditions. Caution was the call after a poor qualifying, where a red flag hampered efforts to improve late in the session. Car 12 would start 16th for the 300km race. Tony drove the opening stint, across the first 38 laps. He passed a few cars and did a very solid job before handing over to Fabian. Unfortunately, the conditions did not suit the car set-up, and tyre pressure adjustments made were also ineffectual as expected heavier rain did not eventuate. Fabian was caught up in an incident with Nick Percat, who was correcting a slide, and received a 15 second time penalty applied post-race. He crossed the line 10th, dropping to 19th once the penalty was applied.
For the first time in 18 races, Car 17 started from behind the front row of the grid for Saturday’s 300km race. Unfortunately, it was a long way back, with 12th position taken in a very wet qualifying session. Alex started in the car, and was very conservative in diabolical conditions. He had an issue early, spinning the car while avoiding another incident on lap six. He fell to the back of the pack, and was forced to fight through the pack. He handed the car to Scott on lap 35. Scott then pushed as hard as the car would allow, but incorrect tyre pressures for the conditions made the going difficult. He finished the race 12th.
Sunday brought a return of that classic Gold Coast sunshine, and a rise in spirits for the team. However, after qualifying the mood in the Shell V-Power Racing garage became a sombre one when Car 17 qualified 13th and Car 12 qualified 22nd. The team set to work to improve the cars for the 300km race, and the work paid off, with the Car 12 crew of Fabian and Tony able to race hard, gaining an impressive 13 positions over their starting place. D’Alberto showed that the car had pace in his opening stint, pushing forward to 14th before he handed the car over to Coulthard. Fabian continued to work his way forward, getting the car into an impressive 9th place at the chequered flag.
Scott and Alex combined perfect strategy with blistering pace on Sunday to put together an incredible comeback. After starting from 13th place on the grid, Alex drove an impressive opening stint, passing eight cars on his way to handing the No.17 Shell V-Power Ford back to McLaughlin on Lap 35. That stint set the stage for Scott to then push forward, and he did just that. A strategy masterstroke by the team saw Scott pit two laps before the Triple Eight cars in front of him, and with fresh tyres and a fast car Scott put the ‘undercut’ to good use, managing to get by Craig Lowndes, Shane van Gisbergen and Jamie Whincup as they took their stops. He then drove fast and efficiently to take the victory by 1.5s. In a ‘made-for-TV’ twist, he ran out of fuel at pit entry after his victory burnouts, and pushed his car to Victory Lane.
After the Gold Coast 600, Fabian is now second in the championship standings, only 17 points behind Jamie Whincup. Scott remains third in the championship, however is now only 27 points behind new leader Whincup. Shell V-Power Racing continues to lead the teams’ championship, 180 points in front of Triple Eight Race Engineering.