Champ leader McLaughlin on top in Newcastle Practice

Scott McLaughlin
Scott McLaughlin

Scott McLaughlin has promised to keep the heat on his Supercars Championship rival Shane van Gisbergen after driving an important psychological stake in the ground in Newcastle today.

With his sights on a maiden Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, McLaughlin finished practice fastest and six places higher than Van Gisbergen on the opening day of the last weekend of the year. xxxx

The equation is simple for McLaughlin in theory but harder in execution. All he needs to do is stay in front of Van Gisbergen throughout the Coates Hire Newcastle 500 weekend.

“It’s going to be all about qualifying here," McLaughlin said. It’s going to be a long race but track position is key, that is all we are working on."

The chaser also wasn’t too perturbed by his finishing position ahead of qualifying in the morning.

“We are close on points, basically equal, it’s whoever wins," Van Gisbergen said. “The reason we are in this position is because of what we have been doing every weekend. There’s no point in changing it and see where we end up."

McLaughlin started tamely but found his Newcastle mojo to end the day, setting the fastest lap on his sixth of the second practice session ahead of Van Gisbergen’s Red Bull Holden Racing Team team-mate Jamie Whincup and Monster Energy Racing’s Cameron Waters.

Between McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen were his Shell V-Power running mate Fabian Coulthard, Boost Mobile Racing’s James Courtney and Timken Racing’s Nick Percat.

“We have got to help Scotty out the best we can this weekend and being where we are at the moment is the best way to do that," Coulthard said of being wedged in the middle.

Also sitting ominously in the middle is Whincup, the man who virtually stole the title from under McLaughlin’s nose this time last year.

Van Gisbergen said he was spooked on one of his flying laps today, pulling out when he came across a bunch of cars. In the end he was only .36s behind the leader in blustery conditions.

"It's different every lap, You don't know what you are going to get," he said.

“I just didn’t get it together. I came across a bunch of slow cars down the hill and panicked. I thought I was going to run into them and ended up going wide myself."

David Reynolds was behind Van Gisbergen with Scott Pye and rookie Anton De Pasquale completing the top 10 from Lee Holdsworth. The retiring Craig Lowndes finished 12th from Chaz Mostert, while Andre Heimgartner was the best of the Nissans in 14th.

ARMOR ALL Qualifying and the opening 250km race for Supercars will be held tomorrow. The Championship will then be decided on Sunday afternoon with the final race of 2018.


COULTHARD QUOTE: “It today was a pretty good day. This place is pretty crazy, it’s a bit of a bullring and very difficult to set the car up perfectly for the whole lap. It’s very close, and we ended up P4 so it’s a good start to the weekend."

MCLAUGHLIN QUOTE: “Overall we’ve had a really good day, and everything feels good. We’ve found a combination that we really like, and everything has gone well. We tried everything that we wanted to and went through a really solid program today. It’s going to be all about qualifying here, the race is going to be long, but track position is key and that’s what we’re working on."