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.
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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.