From there, it was a question of if any team had made immediate gains on the top two squads – and after one weekend, you can safely presume that 2020 shouldn’t just be a battle between DJR Team Penske and Triple Eight.
Here are five things foxsports.com.au learned after the first race event of the 2020 season.
We’re just one round in, you say. Obviously. But guided by good strategy, McLaughlin kept his cool in a dicey Saturday race – with rival Shane van Gisbergen behind at the end – to kick off 2020 with a podium.
McLaughlin led the race after pitting early, and Jamie Whincup – the day’s fastest man – just had to sit in behind and wait as the strategy played out. Sunday, though, saw McLaughlin steal the lead from van Gisbergen off the start before calmly running his own race after they swapped places due to a rare Shell V-Power Racing crew lapse in the pits.
Effectively, van Gisbergen drove his car so hard, he broke it. McLaughlin was still off van Gisbergen’s pace, but had well and truly gapped everyone behind and kept it clean. Race lead yours, race win to come. No IndyCar distractions here.
“If we were in clear air, like we were in the first stint, we might have had [van Gisbergen’s] measure but he was really fast once he got into clear air so he obviously had a quicker car,” McLaughlin said after Race 2.
“It was an awesome battle because you’ve got that gap and if one person made a mistake you dropped a little bit and if the other guy did, you get it back.
“It was tit for tat and that bodes well for the rest of the year… it’s going to be a big battle and it’s all going to be about consistency and I’m happy that we got all the details right this weekend.”
McLaughlin talks Adelaide win
Red Bull Holden on fire
Yes, Sunday was one to forget for the factory Holden squad. But after the week everyone associated with the brand has had, Triple Eight’s Adelaide weekend should be considered a big success.
You don’t win the final seven races of a season and come into the next with no momentum. The whole field had a single day on the baby-bum-smooth Tailem Bend circuit prior to the Adelaide weekend to get their heads around the tweaks introduced for 2020, notably the new shock.
By Saturday, the Red Bull Holden crew had learned the important things faster than anyone, with Jamie Whincup coasting to victory after grabbing pole.
SVG’s heartbreaking end
Shane van Gisbergen showed pace in Race 1 yet couldn’t clear Scott McLaughlin, citing aero dramas for his failure to make it a Red Bull Holden 1-2.
A day later, though, the 2016 champion was faultless, driving the #97 ZB Commodore like a dad racing to get the family to the airport. Sadly, the team made a key pit error and the front right let go late on, cruelling a magnificent performance as Whincup got caught up in the minor placings battle.
They didn’t come away with the golden trophy they wanted, but gee, the cars were dialled in. Expect much of the same – and more – next time out at Albert Park.
Chaz the real deal for WAU?
Again, we’re only one race in, but Chaz Mostert and Walkinshaw Andretti United really threw the cat among the pigeons. It was the off-season move which prompted questions over whether Mostert could help return WAU back to the pointy end. Mostert needed just three practice sessions to tick that box.
But it’s only one round! Yes, but momentum counts for much in racing. Mostert broke the practice/qualifying lap record on Friday. If that’s not worth talking about, then go complain somewhere else.
Critically, in his final seasons with Tickford, Mostert had speed but was clearly bogged down. After Sunday’s race, a beaming Mostert said he was “mentally” fresh and it showed in his racecraft on both days. Can he become champion? Of course. It’s obviously far, far too early to tell – but he can lead WAU back to where the team belongs considering its winning legacy.
“The first lap out on a fresh tyre, compared to everyone else, he was the fastest car,” Fox Sports expert Mark Skaife said on Supercars Trackside on Sunday.
“His fresh set of eyes, with a new engineering understanding… clearly those cars over the last few years have been nowhere near the pointy end of this field.
“It’s a bit of a lesson for the rest of pit lane, there’s rejuvenation… they’ve gone about their trade and driven the wheels off the car all weekend and have done a remarkable job.”
Davison vs Mostert vs Waters
Tickford’s quiet achieving
Three cars in the top seven in the championship? It’s not a winning start for Tickford, but it’s a start – and the Sunday podium for Cameron Waters was a nice cherry on top on a solid weekend for the Ford squad.
Will Davison was rapid all weekend and left Adelaide fourth in the standings, and despite being disappointed not to podium on either day, fourth is fourth. It’s a template to work off, and the #23 Milwaukee Mustang was a factor all weekend.
Waters was quick over one lap and kept Chaz Mostert honest late in Sunday’s race. Lucky not to be wiped out by Shane van Gisbergen after the Red Bull Holden driver suffered a component failure, Waters repaid the favour by giving the #97 driver a lift back to the pits.
Last year, the Tickford boys showed pace at Albert Park, Mostert winning overall. After much promise in Adelaide, Melbourne will provide more proof of whether the four-car squad has a champion in its ranks.
Is the aero problem still a problem?
A thorough Vehicle Control Aerodynamic Testing (VCAT) process took place in the off-season in a bid to reduce the downforce achieved by the Ford Mustang and Holden ZB Commodore by roughly 10 per cent, while for the first time, a control shock absorber was introduced. Two big changes, two big talking points.
Early thoughts? After Thursday practice, Shane van Gisbergen kicked off the chatter, joking the cars were “crap” and suggesting the aerodynamic changes – coupled with the control shock absorber – encouraged more sliding and had him “hating life”.
Prior to Sunday’s race, van Gisbergen also suggested on the grid on the broadcast that the aero tweaks made to cars for 2020 didn’t particularly improve when it came to following the leading car.
Friendly fire! 1st lap chaos
Still, the aero tweaks and contract shock were mooted to level the playing field, or at least bring the drivers to the fore much more. Seven different teams featured in the top 10 in Race 2, so that’s an early box ticked.
Regardless, the off-season changes to cars’ aero and suspension specifications made life tougher for drivers, but the racing spectacle was as impressive as ever.
However, the aero concerns remain. Will Davison said the cars were hard to race in Adelaide, particularly trying to follow cars through the high-speed Turn 8 before the key overtaking opportunity at Turn 9: “There’s less downforce, I was really struggling with front downforce at Turn 8. You can’t attack or anything when you’re behind people… you just couldn’t commit for a move unless you had a huge speed advantage.”
Will the trend continue at the sweeping Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit in three weeks’ time, and beyond? Supercars’ technical staff will be hoping for a big ‘no’.
It was the one that got away for Shane van Gisbergen, who was by far and away the fastest on Sunday at the Superloop Adelaide 500.
Van Gisbergen claimed pole position for Race 2, and led 51 of 78 laps in the 250km marathon. Late into the race, he held a nine-second lead over countryman and rival Scott McLaughlin.
Early on, things began to unravel despite van Gisbergen’s standout pace. Having lost the lead into Turn 1 to McLaughlin, van Gisbergen suffered a suspected broken front anti-rollbar in the opening laps.
After grabbing the lead back in the pits under the second yellow, van Gisbergen set a cracking pace, only to be sent back for a third pit stop after his Red Bull Holden crew failed to put enough fuel in the car – an incident team manager Mark Dutton diagnosed as “human error”.
Van Gisbergen emerged fourth behind Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters, having ceded the lead to McLaughlin.
After erasing a three-second margin to Waters, van Gisbergen had a crack at Turn 7 on Lap 75. It would be his final lap, the #97 ZB Commodore grinding to a halt with a broken lower control arm on the right front.