Cars Motorsport

SDS DELIVERS IN NEWCASTLE OPENER

ITS hard to go past the clinical, controlled and well-executed performance that delivered Scott McLaughlin a 108-point swing from second to the lead of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship today in Newcastle. 

But, naturally, we will and look at Simona DeSilvestro instead.

In arguably her best performance since joining the championship at the Adelaide 500 this year, the Swiss racer was classified 20th today but should have been fifth or, had the dice rolled her way, even on the podium.

A smart strategic decision by the Nissan team saw the 78 car stay out when a bulk of the field stopped under the first Safety Car early in the race. She then stopped on her second lap around – avoiding the double stack and basically getting a free pass up the order.

There she emerged in the top ten and there she confidently stayed, chasing and racing with van Gisbergen, Coulthard and Reynolds in an entertaining battle for third through sixth place.

Track Position is king in Supercars and today was proof of that, perhaps more than in any other moment this year.

By the time the championship got to Darwin I think most of the Supercars core were happy to go on record and state that Simona had the same relative race pace as her contemporaries. Only one lap pace has set her back since and her ability to qualify any further forward than at the front of the six cars that fill positions 20 through 26 on the Supercars grid.

How much of that is down to the car and driver is up to questioning: one-lap pace has been one of the few strengths the Nissan team have had, on occasion, this year so clearly there’s more to come from her understanding of extracting the most from a Supercar on one lap.

But it’s clear it will come.

So today when the strategy dice delivered and she had a chance to run at the front of the field she showed that the potential to get real results is very much there, as we expected.

The Harvey Norman car was on course for at least fifth place before the restart exchange with Reynolds, Fabian, SVG and Slade saw her bundled wide and into the fence at the challenging turn-12.

Though she rejoined and finished in a battered car, the ultimate finishing performance won’t show the best performance of her still short Supercars career yet.

And the fact Lee Holdsworth, who ran a different strategy again, emerged behind Simona after his pit stop and ultimately finished fourth shows that a strong result was on the cards today.

It bodes well for the long term results that SDS can achieve when track position rolls her way.

THE RACE:

FROM THE moment we walked past throngs of people lining up at the gates on Friday, waiting to get into the venue, we never had any doubt Newcastle was going to be a smash hit for Supercars and after the first two days that is without question.

The biggest discussion point then turned to the ability of the circuit to actually deliver a motor race. 

While passing is certainly at a premium, I think what we saw in race one was a solid start.

There was overtaking, though you absolutely had to earn any position you made because there was no doubt it was more difficult to pass here than the current street circuit contemporaries.

Still, the nature of the circuit and the challenging cambers and mistake-creating opportunities certainly generated enough passing to make the race a solid spectacle.

The rest of the show came from the usual street circuit drama – walls, track degradation, kerbs, contact, fatigue and all of the other variables places like Adelaide, Townsville and the Gold Coast throw up. So that’s a pass mark so far – with room for improvement.

THE CROWD: 

IT IS easy to be cynical when it comes to sporting attendance and this weekend will be no different.

The difference will be that even if organisers announce a three-day crowd of, say, 180,000 people we’ll suggest it’s way too low.

The place was packed yesterday and even more rammed today. If there wasn’t 65,000 here on Saturday i’ll be shocked.

Sunday may well turn out to be smaller given the lack of a Sunday night concert – I wonder if they will learn from Adelaide on that count – but it’s still likely to be massive.

When you’re trying to work it’s often frustrating to have to push your way through the throngs to get to where you need to go – but at the same time it’s impossible to not be completely impressed by the number of people here this weekend, and their enthusiasm for what they were watching.

The cheer when Whincup ended up in the fence on lap one was as loud as anything at Adelaide or Bathurst this year..

THE TIME: 

PERHAPS the only downer from today was that time certainty continues to play a role in dictating the outcome of races.

The Safety Car interruptions today ensured we fell three laps short from going full distance, so it’s not as bad as it could have been.

But surely if you’ve spent several hundred dollars to stand in the sunshine with 65,000 other people you deserve to get the full race in – or at least have a reasonable crack at it.

It would be like going to the footy and having the umpires calling the fourth quarter finished when they entered time on. It would never happen.

There’s enough fat in the program and gaps between session (which are absolutely necessary, we know) to bring the start of the main race forward by 20 or 30 minutes, at least.

And if the race goes green all the way and finishes early, so what? It just means we’ll go to the restaurants and bars in the area sooner rather than later.

Yes there are free-to-air TV commitments to work with; TV remains the key, critical driver of revenue to the sport and obviously must be respected – though time certainty robs those watching at home of laps too.

I don’t know how to fix it in a way that gives certainty of a broadcast window and at the same time allows for a full race to be run as many times as possible.

But I don’t like our game short-changing the paying fans by robbing them of laps they deserve.

It’s over to smarter minds than mine to fix.