Hats off to Volvo young gun

Barry Oliver.
Barry Oliver.

WHILE Jamie Whincup, Craig Lowndes and James Courtney were the race winners in the opening round of the V8 Supercars championship at the Clipsal 500 meeting, the major talking point by far was the performance of the new Polestar Valvoline Volvo in the hands of young gun Scott McLaughlin.

As the newcomer on the scene, not too much was expected of the Volvo against the established Holden and Ford teams or the one-season-old Nissan and Erebus Mercedes AMG outfits. However, come qualifying, the eyebrows were more than raised when the 20-year-old Kiwi put the distinctive blue S60 on grid position five for race one.

He followed that up by finishing a solid seventh in the race and matching the pace of the front runners, but some pundits may have suggested that it was a bit of a fluke.

That was obviously more than a bit dismissive as McLaughlin had qualified a superb second for race two and after a torrid battle with five-time V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup, the young sheet metal worker (no kidding) came home with a brilliant and emotional second place.

To hold off and then re-pass the seasoned multiple Bathurst and V8 Supercar championship winner had the crowd enthralled. While it's early days in McLaughlin's career, he is already being touted in some quarters as another Whincup.

Come Sunday and McLaughlin earned a spot for the top-10 shootout for the 250 kilometre race three with a fourth place in the qualifying run and any questions of a flash-in-the-pan performance were now being dispelled.

The opportunity to improve even further on the grid came to nothing in the shootout when the car was adjudged to have contravened the curb-hopping rule and the time was disallowed meaning McLaughlin would start from grid position 10.

Despite that, McLaughlin put his head down and with good pit work and strategy the Volvo was up to a very competitive third place with McLaughlin displaying a maturity beyond his years and maintaining the pace of the front runners.

Just when it seemed another podium was on the cards, the Swedish machine came to a halt on the circuit with alternator failure after 65 laps of the 78-lap race distance.

It was a sad end to a magnificent debut performance which received genuine applause from the 80,000 spectators who obviously dismissed the much- used saying about "hat-wearing Volvo drivers".

Clearly there is a new kid on the block and while second driver Robert Dahlgren had some issues and was somewhat overwhelmed by the competitiveness of the category, the small but close-knit Garry Rogers team have thrown down the gauntlet to the opposition in fine style.

Of more concern to the established outfits such as Red Bull, the Holden Race Team and the Ford Performance Racing Team are the bullish comments by the ebullient Polestar Valvoline team owner Rogers, who said this week that this was just the start.

Rogers said the team still had a lot of work to do and the cars would only get faster as the season progressed.

While some may dismiss his comments as off-the-cuff emotion following a great debut, it should be remembered that former racer Rogers and this team were largely responsible for the early careers of Garth Tander and Jamie Whincup.

Rogers is confident race wins will happen this year and went so far during the week as to suggest they were championship contenders.

It's a huge call, but who am I to argue?


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