Shane van Gisbergen has taken a popular victory in a hectic and eventful Race 23 at the ITM Auckland SuperSprint.
The Red Bull Holden Racing driver nabbed the lead in the second pit stop sequence, surviving a number of Safety Car restarts to move closer in the championship standings and up to fourth place.
Prodrive’s Mark Winterbottom grabbed second place, shadowing van Gisbergen’s strategy ahead of Scott McLaughlin who came home third despite smoke coming from his Shell Ford in the closing stages.
On the other side of the garage, the Kiwi’s stable-mate Fabian Coulthard was taken out in a dramatic crash during the final 20-laps of the race.
Coulthard’s Shell V-Power Racing Ford had a spectacular roll over in the closing stages of the 70-lap hit out, after contact with David Reynolds through Turn 9 sent him spinning backwards into the tyre barrier.
The incident started a corner earlier, when Chaz Mostert attempted a move on Reynolds up the inside at Turn 8, but missed a gear on the exit after making contact with the Erebus driver, bottling up those behind.
Coulthard tried to pounce on Reynolds, but made contact through the high speed Turn 9, with both cars shooting off the circuit.
“There was a gap, I went for it and then just got a tag from Reynolds,” said Coulthard.
“It’s going to be a long night for the guys.
“I was along for the ride, it’s one of those situations where you’re a passenger – you don’t know how hard it’s going to hit and when it’s going to hit so you just brace yourself.”
Jamie Whincup lead away at the start after a clean getaway from the dry side of the road compared to pole-sitter Cameron Waters, who’s grid spot was on the right hand side of the circuit, which was slightly damp
Further back, Shane van Gisbergen muscled his way into third at Turn 1 after starting ninth.
The top three immediately broke away from the rest of the pack, before van Gisbergen pitted on Lap 10, which kicked off a raft of stops for some of the midfield runners, as well as Winterbottom and McLaughlin who came in together on Lap 12.
Race leader; Whincup peeled off into the pits on Lap 13 for his first stop of the race, with Waters coming into two laps later as the former rejoined back in the lead.
After Shell V-Power Racing opted to short fill McLaughlin’s Falcon for track position, the Kiwi hitched onto the back of car #88 before challenging for the lead on Lap 17 when he tried a move around the outside of Turn 9.
Whincup closed the door on McLaughlin, leaving him to recover from a wild moment on the grass after being pushed out wide by the former through Turn 9.
Car #17 kept the pressure on Whincup for a number of laps until a Safety Car changed the dynamic of the race entirely when James Courtney became beached in the tyre wall at Turn 4.
Whincup and McLaughlin dived in immediately, but van Gisbergen and Winterbottom stayed out an extra lap as the former two got caught up in confusion behind the Safety Car, which they were actually supposed to overtake at that moment, costing them valuable time.
In the meantime, SVG and Winterbottom blazed around at warp speed, rejoining in first and second respectively after their stops behind the Safety Car, which came in only a few laps later.
McLaughlin made a move on Whincup for third on Lap 39 at Turn 8, keeping within touching distance of the Top 2 as it began to drizzle around the Pukekohe Park Circuit.
Van Gisbergen stretched a 1.5s advantage to Winterbottom as the rain intensified, before a second Safety Car intervention backed the field up again on Lap 52 when Dale Wood went off the road at Turn 4.
The positions stayed the same on the restart, as the track started to dry out again, but before long, the Safety Car was back out on track after Coulthard rolled over at Turn 9.
Van Gisbergen held onto his lead and took the win by 0.8s after a time certain finish shortened the race by five laps.
Mostert, is now all but out of contention for the championship title, a drive-through for the initial contact with Reynolds leaving him down in 23rd and 210pts off Whincup in the standings.
More to follow.