Shell V-Power Racing’s Scott McLaughlin claimed his sixth-straight Supercars victory in the opening leg of the Watpac Townsville 400.
McLaughlin passed Jamie Whincup for the lead during the final stint of the 70-lap race and didn’t look back, securing the 13th win of his title defence by 4.7025 seconds.
Whincup eventually finished second, while Chaz Mostert rounded out the podium after a pitstop problem for early leader David Reynolds.
With the win, McLaughlin extends his championship lead to 358 points over team-mate Fabian Coulthard, who finished fifth.
“Me and Chaz had a good battle,” McLaughlin said.
“It cost us a lot of time, so I was sort of trying to make up the whole race.
“Thankfully we had really good car pace, over the run it just kept coming and coming and coming.”
Polesitter Reynolds kept the lead through the opening exchanges as the Penrite Racing Holden, Mostert and McLaughlin pulled away at the front.
Reynolds led by two seconds on lap 15, before an escalation in the fight for second between Mostert and McLaughlin pushed that out to six.
McLaughlin found a way past Mostert on lap 19 after a fierce scrap, with Shane van Gisbergen also passing the Supercheap Mustang.
Having run sixth early, Whincup was among the first drivers to pit, his lap 16 stop ultimately six laps before McLaughlin and seven before Reynolds.
The undercut, clean air and a slightly shorter fuel fill handed Whincup the lead in the second stint, with six seconds over Reynolds and McLaughlin.
McLaughlin overtook Reynolds on lap 31, by which time Whincup was 5.1s clear at the front of the field.
That margin was down to two seconds when Whincup came in for his second pitstop on lap 38, with Reynolds unable to stay with McLaughlin.
Whincup emerged in traffic but still retained a two-second lead after McLaughlin made his final stop five laps later.
McLaughlin quickly cut that margin, though, and put a pass on Whincup for first into the final corner on lap 50.
His charge continued when in the lead, McLaughlin’s advantage getting out to more than six seconds before he eased off.
Whincup’s attention during the final stint turned to keeping Mostert at bay.
He managed to do that and then built a buffer to finish three seconds clear.
“I’m really proud of the crew today, they were really aggressive on strategy,” Whincup said.
“You’ve got to be careful doing that because you can hurt yourself to the rest of the field trying to race #17.
“We came in early and put the pressure on those guys.
“The strategy was excellent, the only better strategy is a faster car.”
Third is Mostert’s maiden Townsville podium.
“We’ve got a good qualifying car now, we’ve just got to work on the race car,” he said.
“Overall I’m pretty pumped to get a trophy, I’ve never had one here in Townsville, it’s always been my nemesis track.”
Van Gisbergen battled a bent wheel during the first stint, and then ran longer during the middle phase before making his second stop.
From seventh with 18 laps remaining, van Gisbergen passed Will Davison, Reynolds and then Coulthard on the final lap to finish fifth.
Coulthard only started 13th but worked his way through the field, while Reynolds had to settle for sixth after a left-rear wheel change problem at his second stop.
Behind Davison, Nick Percat, Mark Winterbottom and Lee Holdsworth rounded out the top 10.
Andre Heimgartner escaped a wild moment with Whincup on lap two, but lost time during his first pitstop to repair rear-bumper damage, and eventually finished 13th.
Cameron Waters made his first pitstop late but then clouted Rick Kelly’s Nissan at Turn 2 on his exit.
Kelly crossed the line 17th while Waters was 21st after serving a 15-second time penalty.