Was McLaughlin robbed of Supercars crown?

CONTROVERSEY: Shell V-Power Falcon driver Scott McLaughlin and Red Bull Holden Race Team' Jamie Whincup were part of a dramatic finish to the Supercars season. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
CONTROVERSEY: Shell V-Power Falcon driver Scott McLaughlin and Red Bull Holden Race Team' Jamie Whincup were part of a dramatic finish to the Supercars season. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

There have been almost endless arguments regarding whether Scott McLaughlin was wronged by officialdom in the days following last weekend’s final race of the Supercars championship in Newcastle.

The Shell V-Power Falcon driver went into the final race knowing that if six-time champion Jamie Whincup was to win the 95-lap race, he only had to finish eleventh or better to claim his first title.

McLaughlin’s chances got off to a great start when he claimed pole position for the race in the top-10 shootout with Whincup in fifth place on the grid in his Red Bull Holden Race Team Commodore.

At the first of two pit stops, McLaughlin entered pit lane closely followed by Whincup teammate Shane Van Gisbergen – and that’s where it all started to unravel.

The 24-year-old New Zealander was judged to have exceeded the mandatory 40km/h speed limit and was then required to serve a drive through penalty, which placed him at the back of the field.

The speed is determined by two timing loops five metres apart at the start of pit lane and it is a judge of fact situation, so there was no recourse for the team who said their on board data recorded an entry speed of 38km/h.

The question as to why Van Gisbergen wasn’t penalised, as he appeared to be travelling faster on entry, was immediately asked and to add to the conspiracy claims, the second Shell V-Power Falcon of Fabian Coulthard had already been penalised for the same issue.

McLaughlin put his head down knowing he had to finish in the top 11 as it was obvious Whincup would be assisted by Van Gisbergen to go into the lead.

It all seemed to be working out for McLaughlin as he came through the back markers but then he made a silly mistake of tagging Nissan’s Simona De Silvestro and incurring a second drive through penalty.

McLaughlin was on a mission as he fought back to finally move into 11th place, despite being hit by the retiring Jason Bright in a clumsy move that damaged the back of the Falcon.

The Shell team held their breath as the damaged bodywork was rubbing on the tyre and causing considerable smoke.

Fortunately the smoke dissipated and McLaughlin continued on without having to call into the pit.

Only problem now was that the Caltex Vortex team, who are part of the Red Bull operation, played the strategy game by bringing Craig Lowndes into change onto fresh tyres.

The plan was that Lowndes would be a lot faster than everyone else on old tyres and could  charge through and get in front of McLaughlin, thereby, securing Whincup his seventh crown.

Going into the first corner of the last lap Lowndes was right on the rear of the Falcon when McLaughlin made a mistake and ran slightly wide, which gave Lowndes the opportunity to pass and steal 11th spot. McLaughlin immediately moved to the left to stop the move squeezing Lowndes up against the concrete barrier and the two made contact.

Both drivers may have got away with the move but unfortunately for Lowndes one of the barriers was protruding sufficiently, so instead of just a side contact with the wall, the protrusion ripped off his left-front wheel and suspension.

McLaughlin continued on to finish 11th and gain championship honours, only to have race control immediately issue a post-race pit lane penalty, relegating the Falcon driver to 18th and giving Whincup the title.

In his defence, a devastated McLaughlin claimed that because he had lost his left hand mirror earlier he had no idea that Lowndes was on his left.

That argument doesn’t really hold up unfortunately.

McLaughlin would have known Lowndes was not on his right hand side and if he had looked in his internal rear vision mirror, he would have noted that Lowndes was not behind him and therefore know he was to his left. It was a sad way to finish the championship after a great year and the questions and comments came thick and fast.

Why was the section of concrete wall jutting out in the first place and why did race control act faster than ever before to impose the penalty on McLaughlin?

Why was the section of concrete wall jutting out in the first place and why did race control act faster than ever before to impose the penalty on McLaughlin?

Clearly the mandatory pre-race meeting track inspection by the stewards had failed to pick up on the wall issue and they must accept part of the blame.

As for the second point, there is no doubt race control did not want to delay the announcement of the championship winner by having a post-race enquiry.

I doubt if it would have made any difference to the outcome, but the real question for me will always be the legitimacy of the first pit lane penalty for speeding, which created what transpired later in the race.

Roll on 2018.