Shell V-Power Racing’s first outing at Winton Motor Raceway was for the opening co-driver only practice session on Friday morning, which gives drivers that will take part in the Pirtek Enduro Cup some extra track time. Conditions were very cold and wet with low grip levels, so track conditions were not ideal for fast laps. No.12 co-driver Tony D’Alberto used the 30-minute session to get a feel for the Shell V-Power Ford, his first time driving a Supercar since the Gold Coast 600 in October 2017.
Practice one for main drivers was also run in full wet conditions, with low temperatures continuing to offer minimal grip levels. Both drivers were happy with car balance, Fabian Coulthard running the fastest time of the session in his 20th and final lap of the session. Scott McLaughlin was also fast, however a low fuel load prevented him from completing his fast lap late in the session. In practice two, Coulthard and his no. 12 crew looked at qualifying balance, running green tyres to join a group of cars up front in the 1m19s bracket to finish the day fourth. McLaughlin and the no. 17 crew focused on race pace and used tyre balance, ending the session 15th as those in front ran green tyres.
Saturday dawned with fog rolling in across the circuit, resulting in the opening sessions of the day being delayed. In qualifying later that morning, Scott took his sixth pole of the season, with Fabian right alongside for a Shell V-Power Racing Team front row lockout.
The 120km-race started strongly for Shell V-Power Racing with McLaughlin away well off the grid at the start leading the field into turn one. Coulthard had a clutch issue off the start, and fell back into fourth place behind the two Nissans of Caruso and Kelly for the first stint of the race.
McLaughlin took his first stop on lap seven, rejoining the race as the first of those who had stopped to that point. Coulthard took service one lap later, slotting in two positions behind McLaughlin in a net third place. With over 30 laps remaining until the chequered flag, both drivers were coached by their engineers to look after their tyres, to ensure they had something in reserve should they need it later in the race. Other cars ran long first stints, looking for a tyre gain late in the race. Our drivers continued to race well, keeping the cars straight to look after their super soft rubber.
Unfortunately, a late race safety car negated the gap that McLaughlin had built-up in the lead of the race, with Coulthard pushed into fourth place by those on fresher tyres. The post safety car restart saw McLaughlin head into turn one with cold tyres, run wide and then be pushed into the dirt – dropping from first to fifth as a result, one place behind Coulthard. They then ran to the flag, with Fabian finishing fourth and Scott fifth.
The Shell V-Power Fords started the 200km race on Sunday with another front-row lockout, as per the previous day. It was McLaughlin’s seventh pole of 2018, and his fourth in a row at Winton after taking the double at this venue in 2017. It was also McLaughlin’s 40th career pole, moving him to fifth on the Supercars all-time list.
Coulthard got a fantastic start and lead the field into turn one building a strong lead across the opening stint of the race. He took his first stop on lap 20, one of the last to do so, and maintained the race lead on exit in front of McLaughlin. He held the lead throughout the second stint, eventually building a 12-second gap on the field before taking his final stop on lap 38 and then settling in for a long run to the flag.
There was a brief chance of a threat from Shane van Gisbergen on fresher tyres late in the race, but it didn’t come to pass and Coulthard took his first race win of 2018, and his first victory since Sydney Motorsport Park in August, 2017.
McLaughlin had a poor start and fell back to eighth on lap one. The team pitted him early on lap eight to get him out of traffic, short-filling to gain some track position. He then set several fast laps, including the fastest lap of the race as he jumped the field to slot into second behind Coulthard after the first round of stops. McLaughlin pulled in for his second and final stop on lap 30 of 67, staying in the effective second position as the field took their second service. Van Gisbergen was one of the final runners to pit, and fell in behind McLaughlin on lap 42, using his fresher tyres to hunt down and then pass the no.17 to take second place. It was then a run to the flag, with gaps being managed front and rear to take a double podium for the team.
Coulthard win means he has jumped up to seventh on the drivers’ championship points table.
McLaughlin has maintained the drivers’ championship lead, now 131 ahead of Van Gisbergen.
The big positive from the weekend was the Shell V-Power Racing taking the lead in the teams’ championship by 87 points over Triple Eight Race Engineering.
The next event is the Darwin Triple Crown at Hidden Valley Raceway on June 15-17.