V8 SUPERCARS: McLaughlin and Volvo ice Phillip Island
A CLEARLY emotional Scott McLaughlin has broken his lengthy winning drought to totally dominate the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint – races six and seven of the 2016 V8 Supercars Championship – at the best permanent circuit in the nation.
Two poles, two wins for maximum points, and one relived and elated Kiwi.
The Volvo bounce-back couldn’t have arrived at a more telling time, with a decision approaching on the future of Volvo in the category and McLaughlin’s own future the topic of much speculation.
Even after a poor 2015 when he struggled with the Volvo S60’s engine woes, McLaughlin remained high on the team owner shopping list.
With his contract with Garry Rogers ending at the end of this season, the star driver’s efforts over the Phillip Island weekend will heighten interest.
McLaughlin was in a class of his own, controlling the Saturday race from a persistent but ultimately helpless Jamie Whincup’s Red Bull Holden. Fabian Coulthard for DJR Penske picked up third at the end after Chaz Mostert’s Falcon blew a tyre on the final lap.
The Sunday contest was a lively one with lots happening behind the lead Volvo. In the closing laps, a rare mistake and slide onto the grass from the ever-trying Whincup dropped the Red Bull driver to fourth behind the alert Mark Winterbottom (Prodrive Ford) and Scott Pye (DJR Penske Ford), both of whom pounced past to take second and third.
McLaughlin isn’t too concerned about his driving future beyond this year, despite some of the usual pit whispers that link him to other outfits.
He says he hasn’t been talking to any team bosses outside Rogers.
“We only really started talking about it a week or two ago, so it’s pretty early now,” he said.
And after the weekend’s golden run, McLaughlin, 22, is feeling very comfortable at GRM.
“This means so much … we’re coming back and I think we’ll have a good one this year,” McLaughlin said as he leapt from the S60 and celebrated on the turret yesterday.
Winterbottom acknowledged he couldn’t catch the Volvo but was happy to bank good points from a weekend of some frustration.
A podium for DJR Team Penske’s Scott Pye was comforting for the young driver, who is under constant pressure this season from speedy team-mate Fabian Coulthard, whose car had power issues from the start.
Heading to the next round in Perth, Whincup stays top of the championship standings, heading McLaughlin by 15 points from reigning champion Winterbottom, 24 points off the lead.
F1: Rosberg triumphant as Ricciardo storms back from puncture
YES, Nico Rosberg cantered away to win the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix, round three of the 2016 world championship.
That sounds too familiar and even boring.
But the Shanghai race was a ripper: hectic and brutal and exciting from the first moments to the final lap. Rosberg’s race was uneventful after lap three and he’ll have to watch a replay to learn what the fuss was about.
Looking back, it seems impossible that all of the 22 starters actually got to the chequer, such was the regular mayhem and damage.
Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo, who’d qualified his Red Bull so magnificently in second place on Saturday, charged to the lead from the outside of the front row and led Rosberg…
But let’s go back to the fun and games…
The strife began, as it does so often, in the first corner, when Daniil Kvyat pushed his Red Bull into a space beneath the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel, who then committed the awful sin of colliding with his team-mate Kimi Raikonnen.
Further back, defending champion Lewis Hamilton, whose trying start to the season continued with power problems in qualifying forcing him to start dead last, then scored an added handicap when an errant car slammed into Mercedes in the first corner, inflicting front wing damage. He and Raikkonen both wobbled to the pits for new front wings.
Up front Ricciardo looked in great shape and kept Rosberg behind until lap three when his left rear collected debris from the earlier contretemps and exploded, forcing him to pit for new rubber.
A badly timed safety car deployment helped push him back to 18thwith lots of work to do.
But brilliant, aggressive driving and some keen strategy from the other side of the wall, hauled Ricciardo up to fourth at the end. It was an impressive recovery.
“The puncture became noticeable when I got on the straight as I could feel the car start to wobble and then my tyre went,” said Ricciardo later.
“Then the safety car put us even further back so that was like a double whammy, which felt like getting punched in the stomach by a heavy weight. But in the end the second part of the race I drove probably one of the best races of my life.”
Vettel too overcame the early bumper-car stuff to claim second ahead of Ricciardo’s team-mate Kvyat. The Russian and the German had words later, with Vettel squarely blaming Kvyat for the incident. But to many observers, including race stewards, it looked like Kvyat was simply opportunistic and racing hard.
Ricciardo’s early puncture removed Rosberg’s biggest obstacle, and the German thereafter drove almost flawlessly to keep intact his perfect winning record for 2016, and his sixth consecutive grand prix victory.
Despite a ragged race, Hamilton dragged the battered Benz up to seventh by the finish, but he is now all of 36 points behind the rampant Rosberg – and only three points ahead of Ricciardo, now third in the championship.
As Rosberg keeps reminding anyone who suggests he is on track to win his first F1 title, there are another 18 races remaining.
Ricciardo warns the Red Bulls are getting better. “The [Red Bull] package is really promising for sure. Right now, three races in every weekend we’ve shown our strength at some point and it’s been a strength we didn’t think we’d have this early in the season, so it definitely feels more like 2014 when we had potential. I felt like I would have sprayed champagne today and part of me is smiling because I am optimistic that will happen this year so that’s a really good feeling and I’ll keep fighting.”
WEC: Crash stalls Webber title defence
MARK Webber’s title defence started badly in the Six Hours of Silverstone world endurance championship opener yesterday, when in the hands of Kiwi co-driver Brendon Hartley the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid crashed heavily after clipping a slower GT car (video below).
The speed differences between the outright LMP1 cars and the production-based GT machines can be alarming, especially when the scrapping up front is so intense.
Mark Webber, who started from grid three, had come through to the lead and opened a margin over the #7 Audi R18 of Andre Lotterer/Marcel Fassler/Benoît Treluyer in what had been a fascinating battle among the quartet of fast prototypes – two from each German make.
In a tense fight at the pointy end, the second Porsche of Neel Jani/Romain Dumas/Marc Lieb upped the pace and led into the final hour, before the final pit stop swung the race back to Audi.
Fassler held off the charging Jani in the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid to take a win on debut for the new 2016 R18.
After struggling in qualifying,, the #6 Toyota Gazoo Racing TS050 Hybrid of Stephane Sarrazin, Mike Conway and Kamui Kobayashi claimed third position in the first race for new model.
However, Fassler’s Audi was later excluded from the results for a too-thin front skidblock, handing the victory to Porsche.
Webber was left to rue the loss of a potential truckload of points.
“I did the first 27 laps and had a good and interesting stint,” said Webber after the race. “In the beginning the Audi was really strong, but then I was able to catch up, get past and create a gap. Our car was very good today and we clearly have lost out on a good score here.”
GERMAN F4: Aussie Mawson off to a flyer
AUSTRALIAN Joey Mawson landed the first telling blows in the 2016 German F4 Championship, with two superb wins and a second, following two pole positions in the three-race opening round at Oschersleben.
Wet and cold, the conditions were hardly comfortable for the Australian but he was uncatchable when it counted.
The opening race was interrupted by safety cars but Mawson easily survived the restart challenges to take the win from Kim Schramm, Jannes Fittje and Mick Schumacher.
A safety car was again used to start the second race, and two major crashes then interrupted Mawson’s drive before he posted another impressive win from pole.
Starting 10th for the final race (a reverse of the race one top-10 finishing order), the field got away without a hitch to a fine start in bright sunshine, but a spate of crashes interrupted Mawson’s progress. He got all the way to second behind Schumacher by the flag.
Mawson’s strong weekend came after a couple of apparel issues earlier. His helmet, new at the start of last year, was found to be no longer on the approved list of helmets for this category. A Van Amersfoort Racing teammate came to the rescue by lending him a spare. Mawson went with a back-up suit hastily embroidered with sponsor patches.
With 68 points, Mawson leads the overall standings after three of 24 races. He has a cushion of 19 points over Schumacher (49).
RALLY: New-look ARC to fire up in WA
NEW rules, new faces, a works re-entry, a returning legend and some big names are set to spice up the revamped Australian Rally Championship, which gets moving next weekend in WA.
For the first time in three years, four-wheel-drive vehicles are eligible to win the Kumho Tyre Australian Rally Championship. The rule change has encouraged many top drivers to return to all-paw cars, and Subaru to bounce back into competition with a factory team for the first time in over a decade.
The factory team will be led by Molly Taylor, who finished second overall in the 2015 driver’s title.
Co-driven by Bill Hayes, Taylor is crewing a virtually stock WRX STi in the Group N4 category, meaning she won’t realistically challenge for the title again this year.
Subaru isn’t saying much but most observers see 2016 as a taste-testing season for the Japanese brand, hopefully preceding a bigger effort next year.
Back for 2016 in privately backed Subarus will be Simon Evans - who won his fourth (and last) title behind the wheel of a Subaru - and five time Australian champion Ross Dunkerton, who is returning to the Quit Forest Rally after a 10-year absence from competitive rallying.
“It’s been 22 years since I have driven a fast four-wheel drive car on a loose surface. I hope to see some familiar faces and old supporters out in the forests next month," said the evergreen 70-year-old Dunkerton, who has stayed sharp driving classic rally cars.
Rising star Harry Bates, the son of Australian rally legend Neal Bates, is also very much in the mix with a competitive car. Impressive in his debut season in 2015, Bates, 21, will be contesting the Quit Forest Rally for the first time and in a Toyota Corolla S2000 – the same car his father drove to victory at the event in 2008.
Another former national champion on the entry is Justin Dowell, driving a Hyundai i20.
Hoping to keep the trophy in Western Australia will be high flyers Brad Markovic and Tom Wilde who have united to form the first ever all-WA two-car team to take on the national competition.
Quit Forest Rally will be held around Busselton and Nannup and starts on Friday.
Meanwhile,three times and current Australian rally champions Eli Evans and Glen Weston are set to tackle a new challenge in 2016 when they will spear head DS Team China in the 2016 Chinese Rally Championship.
Evans and Weston will chase the six-event championship in a two-wheel-drive DS3 as part of a two-car team alongside Chinese driver Mr Cheng Zifeng.
Team manager Ron Cremen says he is pleased to have Evans and Weston remain with Citroen, with which they won the 2015 ARC, under the new stand-alone DS performance brand in China. But Cremen isn’t oblivious to the magnitude of the challenge ahead.
He points out that around 100 competitors will line up for each round of the CRC, made up variously of gravel, tarmac and snow-covered surfaces.
DS Team China will have full support from the DS factory in fast-developing China with the team looking towards the future and running a locally produced car in the region.
Though prioritising the adventurous move into the biggest car market in the world today, Evans and Weston also hope to squeeze in some rounds of the ARC this year.
Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.
Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!