Back to Front: How McLaughlin and Lowndes did it

Before Scott McLaughlin’s victory from 19th on Sunday, no Supercars driver had come from lower than 12th on the grid to win at Barbagallo Raceway.

That was Larry Perkins in 1997, while McLaughlin’s Saturday victory came from ARMOR ALL Pole Position.

Of McLaughlin’s 11 wins for Shell V-Power Racing before Sunday’s, 10 had come from pole and one from second, with 13th on the Gold Coast last year the outlier.

More broadly this season, from the first 11 races no driver had won from lower than third place.

McLaughlin shattered plenty of expectations on Sunday, while Craig Lowndes also carved his way through the field.

From 25th on the grid, Lowndes made up 22 positions to finish third and join McLaughlin on the podium.

The 83-lap race was shaped by an early Safety Car period, Barbagallo’s usual tyre degradation and a mixture of three and four-stop strategies.

Neither McLaughlin or Lowndes expected to finish up where they did, but here’s how they did it, beyond those fundamentals of good car pace and tyre life

Why they were there

McLaughlin was in fine form on Saturday, winning from pole by 5.6 seconds, his third-straight win of the campaign to follow a Phillip Island double.

Lowndes had a quieter day, taking fifth from eighth.

What put both drivers under pressure on Sunday was ending up 12th and 17th in Practice 4, from which the top 10 drivers skipped the first phase of ARMOR ALL Qualifying.

Going the long way to the top 10 could be done, as the Autobarn Lowndes Racing driver showed from Q1 on Saturday, but neither driver could fire a shot and progress.

McLaughlin was ninth of the 16 drivers, taking the blame for a Turn 6 mistake, with Lowndes 15th, meaning they would line up 19th and 25th.

The early stages and first stops

McLaughlin avoided a melee that included team-mate Fabian Coulthard at Turn 5 to complete the first lap 16th.

He crossed the line just about on the inside grass trying to pass Richie Stanaway, and was briefly out of shape heading into Turn 1 after contact between the pair.

Stanaway was one of three spots picked up on lap two, which McLaughlin finished with two wheels on the grass, this time trying to pass Tim Blanchard.

By the time the Safety Car came out on lap four, McLaughlin was 12th.

“It was loose at the start, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

“Luckily I was on the right side of everything that happened.

“I was bombing people to get some moves and make a lot in that first stint. Then the Safety Car really fell in our hands.”

With a number of drivers ahead double-stacking or delayed amid pitlane congestion, McLaughlin emerged in seventh place, even having “taken a lot of fuel on”.

Progress for Lowndes was slightly less pronounced, crossing the line 22nd at the end of lap one and pitting from 21st.

With only Will Davison electing not to pit, Lowndes remained 21st after the “chaos” of the stops.

That was, in part, due to having to double-stack behind Tekno’s Jack Le Brocq, his pit-boom-buddy who came in from sixth.

“I know poor old Le Brocq got serviced but couldn’t get out because I think it was one of the Shell cars was sitting beside I think either Jamie [Whincup] or Shane [van Gisbergen], so he had to wait,” Lowndes said.

“But luckily he got far enough forward for me to be able to drive in to get serviced.”

The second stints

McLaughlin: Seventh on lap five, pitted from fourth on lap 27
Lowndes: 21st on lap five, pitted from fifth on lap 31

McLaughlin passed Nick Percat and the ailing Davison during this stint, as Chaz Mostert led David Reynolds.

When the Shell Ford pitted, he was roughly five seconds behind Mostert, while Reynolds stayed out until lap 32.

Lowndes, though, was a big mover, noting post-race that his Q1 exit meant he had a set of green tyres to use in this phase.

On lap eight, the first lap after the restart, he tangled with Fabian Coulthard at Turn 6 and dropped back to 23rd place.

His first positional gain didn’t come until lap 12, by which time he was nearly 15 seconds behind Mostert.

Passing moves were complemented by the start of the second round of stops, as Lowndes maintained a relatively-stable gap to the leaders.

The third stints

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McLaughlin: 13th on lap 28, pitted from first on lap 59
Lowndes: 18th on lap 32, pitted from second on lap 60

Through this phase of the race, the field was further scattered by four-stop strategies from the likes of Shane van Gisbergen and Rick Kelly.

A long stop for Mostert due to a fuel timer problem dropped him back in the pack, while McLaughlin’s undercut and short-fill on Reynolds resulted in track position.

That was ultimately when the race shifted in McLaughlin’s direction, even as Reynolds picked up spots with moves like his Turn 1 double on Kelly and Jamie Whincup.

At the halfway mark, McLaughlin led Andre Heimgartner’s Nissan by 4.2 seconds, with Reynolds 7.8s adrift.

Utilising his fresher tyres, Reynolds was back to within about five seconds when McLaughlin made his third and final stop, on lap 60, one before his rival.

Lowndes, again, did plenty of heavy lifting, still about 15 seconds behind the leader, by that stage McLaughlin.

He got back into the top 10 on lap 39, with progress again a mixture of moves and rivals pitting.

The run home

McLaughlin: Ninth on lap 60, finished first
Lowndes: 13th on lap 61, finished third

McLaughlin started his final stint in the mix with the four-stopping van Gisbergen and Kelly, but retook the outright lead on lap 65.

At the time, Reynolds was about five seconds behind, but closed to within two seconds with 10 laps left.

That stabilised and McLaughlin edged away again to have the race in the bag even before Reynolds speared off at the final corner.

“I can’t wait to watch the race when I get home,” the championship leader said on Sunday afternoon.

Pitstops moved Lowndes from 13th to fifth by lap 67, 12 seconds behind McLaughlin.

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From there, he caught and passed Heimgartner on lap 72 and James Courtney for the final podium position at Turn 6 on lap 82.

They were both roughly six seconds ahead of Lowndes after the last stops, having pitted three laps earlier.

Third nearly became second at the final corner when Reynolds was going through the sand, but it was still a third podium of 2018.

“You can’t go from the back of the grid to anywhere in this field unless you’ve got a really fast car under you, and we did,” concluded Lowndes.

Back to Front: How McLaughlin and Lowndes did it

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