The Supercars grid survived the Newcastle pressure test surprisingly unscathed, but there was no shortage of storylines for the lack of carnage.
The reigning champion was disqualified and started a one-man post-race protest, mixed podiums and erratic form, the rise of midfield teams under new rules – Newcastle’s return to the calendar gave the sport plenty to think about.
But while some maximized their chances on a random weekend, not all made the round. Some really screwed up there. One team even managed to do both – it was such an event.
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HIT: CHAZ MOSTERT STARTS WITH RIGHT FOOT
For the second year in a row, Chaz Mostert leaves the first race of the year with the championship lead.
He hopes that’s where the similarities end with 2022.
There is reason for hope in this regard. His Newcastle weekend has been satisfactorily consistent, with two top 10 qualifying results and back-to-back second places. On a weekend when most teams’ form was shaky, Mostert’s car was a predictable front-runner.
It was also pleasing that the 30-year-old willingly stretched out his elbows in a duel with Shane van Gisbergen. With the T8 driver behind him thanks to tire disparity, the matter was truly lost, but Mostert’s willingness to jab and rub his aggressively posing rival is what we want to see – and what’s needed in a title fight with the reigning ruler Master.
HIT: SHANE VAN GISBERGEN’S DOMINANCE ON THE TRACK
Ask yourself if you’re really surprised that under the new regulations, Van Gisbergen is listed as one of the first big winners of the year.
If Gen3 is a ruleset for a car going back to basics, did we really have reason to think SVG would suddenly struggle or fall back into the pack?
This is a rider who has been fast in virtually every other category he has tried. He is adaptable thanks to his excellent feel for machines. You could almost say that the rules were made for him.
And he was a hit in more ways than one, unleashing some of his signature on-track aggression on his way past Chaz Mostert to victory on Sunday. He didn’t have to hit the WAU car; His tires were good enough to eventually get him past. But it was his first memory of the season of who’s boss on the track.
He didn’t officially win on Saturday, but two dominant performances say more than the point table at the end of the season.
SVG Wins Supercars Season Opener | 01:11
MISS: SHANE VAN GISBERGEN’S POST-RACE SHUTDOWN
But of course, SVG spoiled what had been a strong weekend at the track with a bizarre Sunday night media shutdown.
In an extremely limited statement, the reigning champion suggested that this had to do with apparent implications for the previous day’s criticism of the new cars.
“I said a lot yesterday, tried to open up a bit more and maybe it bit my butt, so I’m just concentrating on driving,” he said. “I was telling the truth about the cars I guess. I’ve tried to be honest. It’s going in the wrong direction, so I’m just concentrating on my driving.”
Earlier at the weekend he said the new cars were “probably worse” at following closely because the skid caused by the lack of downforce meant the tires overheated more quickly. He also complained about cabin heat.
He didn’t answer questions from commendably hard-nosed host Chad Neylon about who was pressuring him for his comments.
If SVG has been pressured by administrators to remain silent – and Supercars have reportedly denied reprimanding him – it would be a short-sighted move that denies the series a crucial color. Sport needs characters, both heroes and villains.
Regardless of its justification, however, there are better ways to resist than a media strike. The words of a reigning world champion carry weight, even if some people would rather not hear them. It’s a shame he chose not to take on this role.
SVG ‘disappointing behavior’ after the race | 03:59
MISS: DICK JOHNSON RUNNING TO BARELY LOCK IN
It was easy to forget that DJR was even in Newcastle that weekend. Barely on TV when you’re not in the fence, barely disrupting the top 10 shootout and ending Sunday with both cars a lap down and buried in the points is a shockingly anonymous start to the season for one of the grandees of the Sports.
Both cars. One lap down. Remarkable.
This is the homologation Ford team, remember. Of all Mustang squads, DJR should lead the way. Will Davison was one of last year’s top qualifiers. Anton de Pasquale was widely anointed as the future champion.
The team’s best result for the weekend was Davison’s 11th place finish on Saturday. It actually went downhill from there, with finishes 16th and 19th for Sunday’s effort.
Undoubtedly, the lengthy testing program for Gen3 took its toll on DJR as the responsible Ford representative and prevented it from fully focusing on its own program for 2023. However, the same goes for Triple Eight, which even had to make bodywork adjustments a few days before the first race.
The good news – in a way – is that Newcastle is one of the most extreme circuits on the calendar. If there was a particular uneasiness about the car with this layout, it’s unlikely to be replicated next time in Melbourne.
But the scale of this disappointment is alarming and well below DJR’s standing.
HIT: PREMIAIR RACING GOES THE HOMOLOGATION TEAM
What a great weekend for PremiAir Racing in only their second season in the premier league and the first weekend of a new set of rules.
James Golding, who was drafted into the squad mid-last year, looks like he’s really reaching his limit after a big improvement in late 2022 and in Tim Slade the team have an experienced contender to steer progress.
That combination made a big impact at Newcastle, with two double shootout appearances and a double top 10 on Sunday.
Fourth and ninth on Sunday were particularly impressive considering the team was one of the few teams in the middle field to make that difficult compromise between qualifying and race pace.
And it’s doubly impressive considering Slade passed a triple-eight car on the grid on Saturday while Golding was ahead of both on Sunday – not an easy feat considering PremiAir buys turnkey cars from T8.
The challenge for PremiAir will be to stay on the ball, but team owner Peter Xiberras’ ambitious plans to take the team forward made a significant step this weekend.
SVG wins first race of new supercar era | 01:16
MISS: TRIPLE EIGHT READING THE RULES WRONG
What a waste of a dominant one-two in the opening race of this rulebook thrown in a misplaced cooler.
Bolting one of the cooling systems on the driver’s wrong side of the cockpit has to be among the least interesting reasons for being thrown out of a race.
It’s particularly disappointing considering that despite motorsport being one of the most document-dependent sports in the world, Triple Eight received a verbal agreement from the head of motorsport as permission – especially considering this documentary makes this rule so clear that multiple teams lodged a protest on Saturday evening.
Triple Eight are challenging the double disqualification, but given that the breach crosses a rule about the cockpit safety arrangement, it’s hard to imagine the team succeeding on anything other than a technical matter.
HIT: EREBUS LEADS THE TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
In a weekend where consistency was difficult to find, Erebus were the least fickle team on the grid, walking away after one lap as team championship leaders – not bad with such relatively unspectacular results as a lone podium, a fourth, a sixth and a 13th. Still, it was the only team to have three top-10 finishes following the weekend’s disqualification of Triple Eight.
Can it continue from here? There is clearly potential. Erebus has been threatening to break through to the top for a number of years now and clearly hit some effective car configurations over the weekend, albeit none that could be quick in both qualifying and the race.
But for now, one will be satisfied that the team survived Gen3’s baptism of fire at Newcastle cleanest of all their rivals.