Newcastle turns on a thriller finale
The final round of the 2017 season for Supercars and several support categories was expected to be exciting, with all categories racing at a brand new, untried venue in Newcastle, but no one would have guessed just how thrilling and controversial it was to turn out, especially Sunday’s 250 kilometre Supercars race.
The meeting was also the championship decider in a number of categories, including Supercars, Super2 and Touring Car Masters, so the pressure was on from Friday as soon as the cars hit the track for the very first time. Even for those teams and drivers not in contention to win a championship, there were bragging rights on offer to be a winner at the inaugural Newcastle meeting.
Weatherwise, the three days were perfect and the organisers and the City of Newcastle are to be congratulated on the outstanding job they did in presenting the 2017 season finale. The setting was spectacular, with the ocean beaches on one side and the harbour on the other. One would be hard pressed to find a more picturesque setting in Australia, if not in the world, for a race venue.
For the first time this year, the GRM team was on a level playing field as far as lack of track data was concerned. No one had an advantage in this area, the two practice sessions on Friday were more intense than usual and the Team PAYCE drivers and engineers were kept busier than ever.
GRM Team Manager, Stephan Millard made sure the pit crew were ready for quick changes as the drivers and their engineers requested setup changes. By the end of the second practice on Friday, the team appeared to be making headway, with Garth 8th fastest and Moffat18th, but considerably off the time of Scott McLaughlin, who topped the timesheets. They, like the majority of the field, were still looking for improvement in what was proving to be quite a challenging track.
Qualifying on Saturday for the afternoon race was encouraging as the GRM team’s times came down, but so did those of many others. James was 13th and Garth 16th fastest, which to put into context were among the 22 cars that were within seven-tenths of a second of each other. Again, Scotty was the quickest and looked set to take the first race (race 25) from pole.
The race had only just started when the safety car was deployed to clear the track of several cars that were buried in the turn 8 tyre barrier. Whincup was one of the drivers caught up and with steering damage, his race was all but run. Most of the field pitted for a quick stop, including the GRM cars, but they had to double stack, which pushed Garth down the order. James, however, was looking good in 11th.
A second safety car period saw James into the top 10 with one stop to go. Lap 53 was when it all came unstuck for James, when he collected the wall on the twisting downhill stretch and had to limp back to the pits with damaged steering. After a mighty effort by his team to get him mobile it came to nothing a couple of laps later when Winterbottom took him out. Garth fared better and was able to get up to 12th by race end.
Sunday dawned sunny and bright and you could sense the excitement all around the track and in the pits for the big finale. Qualifying was disappointing for the Team PAYCE drivers and they had to settle for midfield spots in the pack. The Top Ten shootout was a thriller and once again Scott McLaughlin pulled of yet another pole after improving a couple of spots.
GRM played a strategy card with Garth in the season final race by pitting him after the first lap and hoping safety car periods would benefit him over the course of the race. Given the number of safety car periods in Saturday’s race it was a likely scenario. By the end of the first stops that were spread over the first third of the race, James had made it into the top 10 followed close on his heels by Garth in the #33 car.
Lots of drama was unfolding with the championship as first Scotty was penalised for speeding in the pit approach and then not long after incurred a 15 second penalty for turning Simona around as he fought for 11th position which would be good enough to give him the championship, even though Whincup was now leading the race itself.
Meanwhile, James and Garth were having their own battle, sitting in 10th and 11th spots and Lowndes was on a charge with fresh tyres. As race end approached, it was Whincup well in the lead, but all attention was on Scotty as he passed Garth then James to put himself in 11th position with Lowndes on his tail.
Just one lap to go and who could have predicted what happened next. Scotty ran wide on turn 1 and Lowndes grabbed the opportunity to run up inside him, just as Scotty came across to cover. They collided and Lowndes hit the wall hard and spun into the tyre barrier at turn 2. Scotty continued on to cross the finish line but was judged to be at fault and was relegated to 18th position, thus handing the championship to Whincup.
No one would have guessed that the championship would be decided on the last lap of the last round.
It was one of those races that will be remembered and debated for years to come. Scotty put up a great show to claw back positions, but Whincup and Red Bull played a strategy game that paid off on the day. Congratulations to Jamie on his seventh championship and also to the entire Supercars field for one of the best seasons ever, where the closeness of the competition was such that on the final weekend five drivers found themselves in contention for the main prize.
Final Drivers Championship placings for Team PAYCE regulars were Garth Tander 9th and James Moffat 17th. The Wilson Security Racing GRM team finished 4th in the Teams Championship.
A special congratulation to Garry and Barry Rogers and all the Wilson Security Racing GRM team for a remarkable effort with new cars and some memorable bouncebacks after big crashes.
We all await the 2018 season, which should be just as exciting as this year, starting with the traditional opener in Adelaide.
Newcastle was the eighth and final round of the Super2 Championship and also the decider of the 2017 champion.
GRM fielded both cars for Richard Muscat and Mason Barbera and although they were not in contention for the title, they were keen to build on their experiences with a new circuit to master. Team PAYCE driver, Macauley Jones in Brad Jones Racing was equally enthusiastic about the new track and wanting to finish the season on a high note.
The first practice on Friday was going well in the early stage of the session with all three drivers in the top ten and Mason the best of the trio in 2nd spot on times. Unfortunately for Mason, he became the first major casualty of the track when he hit the wall and brought out the red flag. He lost his best time and was to be placed 18th with his car back in the pits for urgent repairs. Macauley continued to impress and was rewarded with 4th fastest, while Richard finished 7th. The second practice minus Mason saw Richard move up a couple spots with an improved time, while Macauley was maintaining his consistency with a 6th fastest time.
Qualifying on Saturday saw Macauley the first driver to break into the 1:11s, before a red flag brought the field in while the track was cleared. Final times had Richard 7th, Macauley 8th and the now-mobile Mason 19th.
All three drivers got away cleanly in the afternoon race, but Richard was caught in traffic and dropped two spots. Macauley overshot a corner and was relegated to 17th and Mason retired to the pits. Richard battled on to finish 11th.
Both Richard and Macauley made it into the top 10 in qualifying on Sunday morning with Mason 19th. The final race of the season in the afternoon was to be an accident-ridden one, but played into both Team PAYCE drivers’ hands, with Macauley taking a podium placing with a 2nd and Richard 4th. Mason battled with the pack and avoided the carnage to finish 15th.
Congratulations to Todd Hazelwood on winning the championship, which will be an important stepping stone to Supercars.
Final placings in the 2017 Super2 championship for the three Team PAYCE drivers were Macauley 7th, Richard 10th and Mason 17th.
Touring Car Masters
Team PAYCE driver and reigning champion, John Bowe, started the weekend just five points ahead of his main rival, Steve Johnson. Both drivers have been on form throughout the season and it was expected they would battle for the 2017 crown. They were joined by a number of other strongly fancied competitors who, as it turned out, were to feature prominently in the results over the two races of the final round.
The sole practice session on Friday had Ryan Hansford in his Torana top of the timesheets and John Bowe 3rd. Saturday’s practice was a repeat of the top time with Hansford once again leading the field. JB came to a halt on track with a broken differential and had to settle for 6th fastest.
Qualifying followed in the afternoon and JB was back in action with the Torana’s diff repaired, but not with his preferred ratio. Hansford continued to dominate the times and JB was able to put in a good run that placed him 3rd on the grid for the first of two races on Sunday.
The first race on Sunday went to a re-vitalised Steve Johnson with JB third. This put Steve into the championship lead and with a repeat of placings in the final race, he took out the championship, beating JB by 11 points, the closest margin ever in TCM history.
The Touring Car Masters category has been outstanding throughout 2017, with new cars and drivers coming into the series. It has been great to see some of the past drivers returning with either new cars or re-built cars and adding to the excitement and colour. PAYCE has been proud to be a supporter of John Bowe again this year, as well as the category itself.
2018 promises to see the category grow even more in popularity as fans appreciate the personalities, the closeness of the racing and the noise and spectacle of the big cars being wrestled around the tracks.
The TCM series returns in March next year at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
Contact: Bill Smith 0412 446 058