Year of the Asterisk What Happened to Supercars in 2019
As 2019 comes to a close and indeed the decade we reflect on this 2019 Virgin Australia Supercars Season. The year of the asterisk was the way to describe this year’s Supercars season, as referred to by the award winning podcast, ‘Below the Bonnet’. Why was it the year of the asterisk? It all started at the very first event at the Adelaide 500 all the way back on the very last day of February, which is hard to believe, where the brand new Mustang debuted. The first Mustang to race in Supercars since Lawrie Nelson raced his mustang in 1990 at Phillip Island. It’s first weekend at the track and the Mustang cleaned up with Scott McLaughlin in the #17 picking up both race wins and a pole position with the other pole position being won by his DJRTP (DJR Team Penske) team mate Fabian Coulthard in the #12 Mustang. This was an amazing start for the Mustang and it only continued with a Mustang winning the first 7 races of the season with McLaughlin winning 6 out of those 7. Chaz Mostert in the #55 Mustang picked up his singular win for the season for Tickford Racing in Race 5. The race was very peculiar because it hadn’t even started and there was drama between Cameron Waters in the #6 Tickford Mustang and McLaughlin. On the warm up lap the two Mustangs collided while they were heating up their tyres and the collision rendered both cars unable to start the race.
Before races 7 and 8 in Tasmania, Supercars added ballast to the top of the roll cage for the Holden and Ford to provide parity of the Centre of Gravity between all 3 manufacturers with the Commodore adding 8 kilograms and the Mustang adding 30 kilograms. Race 8 in Tasmania saw the #97 Holden Commodore of Shane van Gisbergen claim the first win for Holden and RBHRT (Red Bull Holden Racing Team) in the 2019 season. Even with these parity adjustments the Mustang was mighty and had a 9 race winning streak with McLaughlin picking up 7 of those 9 wins and the other 2 going to his team mate Fabian Coulthard. During this streak before races 11 and 12 for the Perth Supernight the Mustang underwent aero changes including, smaller rear wing endplates, a lower rear wing Gurney flap and a reduced front undertray to reduce downforce. Before the on track action at the Darwin Triple Crown begun all Holden Commodores had their aero set up tweaked. Specifically, their front undertrays was altered to provide more downforce, in turn downforce was taken off the rear of the car to balance the alteration. Race 18 Holden won again and for the second time with Shane Van Gisbergen behind the wheel in a wet and wild race up north at the Townsville 400. Race 19 at Queensland Raceway was once again won by a Holden but this time by the #88 of Jamie Whincup for RBHRT. But Holden’s winning ways were quickly demolished with McLaughlin taking the next 3 wins for Mustang. During McLaughlin’s clean sweep weekend at The Bend before races 21 and 22 the Nissan Altimas had an aero tweak. The Altimas added a raised gurney flap on the boot which provided more rear downforce and they reduced the undertray to decrease the front downforce, this changed the balance of the downforce more rearwards which would assist in the setup of the car.
Another aero adjustment came to the Commodore before the races in Auckland with the addition of a gurney flap on the rear wing, an extension of the undertray to provide more downforce. They also removed the high level brake light from the boot. Race 23 in Auckland provided another win for Holden and another win for Shane van Gisbergen and made it his third of the season. Race 24 McLaughlin came back and won it and broke the record for most race wins in a season previously held by Craig Lowndes at 16, McLaughlin ended up making it 18 after his win at Bathurst. A common theme of the weekend for drivers was the difficulty in following other cars with many of the drivers mentioning it over the weekend, this had a negative effect with drivers unable to follow at a decent pace to the driver in front which provided less overtaking.
Watch at this link: https://www.supercars.com/videos/championship/trackside-larko-explains-holden-aero-changes
During Race 24 there was the infamous Safety car stuff up with race control catching Whincup who was not the correct leader. This led Whincup to pass the safety car which gained him a drive through penalty for passing the safety car. After the race Whincup said this unforgettable and regrettable statement about the officials, “people making decisions that are just cruising back, just having a few glasses of red each night, and rocking up to the track and the brain's not with it”. Race 25 was the start of the Endurance season and was the famous Bathurst 1000, and it was full of controversy. There were no parity adjustments but the #17 Mustang with Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat won the Bathurst 1000 under questionable circumstances. For the first 100 laps it was calm with only a crash on lap 1 with Tim Slade in the wall. There was also issues with the #97 Commodores door not latching and we saw Shane van Gisbergen driving one handed around the mountain while holding the door closed and then finally latching it shut down Conrod straight at nearly 300KMH!
Then on lap 101 Todd Hazelwood in the #35 Holden Commodore crashed at Reid Park bringing out the safety car. Lap 123 the Tickford teammates collide at the bottom of the chase after Mostert locked up and went into the side of Waters with both of them getting stuck in the sand trap. The #6 Mustang was unable to be repaired with the right rear being ripped out of it, the #55 Mustang however was able to repaired and finished the race 15th. On lap 127 Anton De Pasquale in the #99 Holden Commodore crashed heavily into the wall bringing out another safety car. Then on lap 135 the wildcard #27 Holden Commodore with international drivers of James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi, with the latter driving at the time out braked himself, locked up and ended up in the sand at Murrays Corner. This is where Fabian Coulthard part of DJRTP held up the field significantly and added a 40 or more second gap to the 2 leaders in front of him, one of those leaders was his team mate Scott McLaughlin. With varying fuel numbers in all cars the order could have been very different if Coulthard had kept his pace behind the leaders.
DJRTP were found guilty of holding up the field considerably and were handed a $250,000 AUD fine with $100,000 AUD being suspended and the team was stripped 300 points from the teams’ championship and the #12 Mustang of Coulthard and D’Alberto was demoted to 21st which was the last of the classified entries.
Race 26 and 27 were on the Gold Coast Streets and was a clean sweep for RBHRT with double podium finishes over both races but was full of action. On Saturday the #55 of Mostert crashed in the Top 10 Shootout writing off the car and they were out for the rest of the weekend. On Sunday in the qualifying session the soon to be 2x Supercars Champion had a massive crash and wrote off his Mustang and was out for the race.
The last round of the Endurance season was Sandown, both the #55 and #17 were able to compete. Before the start of the race on Sunday news broke that the #17 Mustangs engine used in qualifying from Bathurst was found to be illegal because the valve lift in a number of cylinders was found to have exceeded the maximum permitted valve lift allowed by Supercars. DJRTP were penalised $30,000 AUD and McLaughlin was sent to start at the back of the grid for the Sandown 500. The weekend was dominated by RBHRT and the race was won by Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes but was going to be won by the #97. With 12 laps to go and over a 10 second lead a rear right shock bolt failed and van Gisbergen had to come to the pits and relinquish his lead to the #888 to fix the problem and ended up finishing 17th. Scott McLaughlin also became Champion with more than a 300-point buffer to 2nd in the championship.
In the final round of the season on the tight streets of Newcastle the teams’ championship was still up for grabs between RBHRT and DJRTP with only around 110 point between them. Both Whincup and van Gisbergen picked up race wins but they had poor results in the races they didn’t win with Whincup finishing 8th because of a mistake causing him to run up an escape road and van Gisbergen finishing 7th after qualifying 18th for the race. In the end Scott McLaughlin was the Supercars Drivers Champion and Bathurst Champion for 2019 and DJRTP was the Supercars Teams Champion for 2019.
So what did happen to Supercars in 2019. Well we witnessed greatness in Scott McLaughlin having the record for the most race wins in a season (18). And we witnessed unsportsmanlike behaviour from DJRTP resulting in a record breaking fine. But most of all we witnessed a bit of a shambles from Supercars. The parity adjustments, all 5 of them. That is a ridiculous amount of changes in a series that is built on parity, it’s not acceptable. I hope Supercars have this parity debate shut for good because it put an asterisk on the 2019 season and most of all hurt their reputation. So that was 2019 and what happened to it, in the Supercars world anyway because the rest of the world is a whole other conversation and pretty boring. Thanks for reading and consider following and leave your opinions about the season in the comments.
I’m Michael Pollard and this has been 2019.
2019 Supercars Championship Results
*Credit to supercars.base for the beautiful pictures captured from Sandown 2019. Check him out on Instagram at 'supercars.base'