The 13th and penultimate round of the 2017 Supercars Championship takes place this weekend at Pukekohe Park Raceway in Pukekohe in New Zealand, which is about 60 kilometres south of Auckland, and we have a five-way battle for the championship heading into the final two rounds (four races) of the season, with Jamie Whincup having a chance to claim an unprecedented seventh Supercars/Australian Touring Car Championship this weekend.
Whincup (2580 points) leads the championship for Triple Eight Race Engineering by 17 points over DJR Team Penske driver Fabian Coulthard (2563 points), with Coulthard’s teammate Scott McLaughlin (2553 points) 27 points behind Whincup heading into the final two rounds of the season, with Prodrive Racing Australia driver Chaz Mostert (2454 points), and Whincup’s teammate Shane Van Gisbergen (2391 points) all within striking distance of the championship, 126 and 189 points behind Whincup respectively.
Whincup has the least amount of race wins out of the five drivers remaining in championship contention with two victories, but has achieved 13 podiums (12 podiums if you discount Race Three of the championship), and has finished outside of the Top 10 on only three occasions so far in 2017. However, despite being consistent in qualifying, achieving an average qualifying position of 4.68, Whincup has only achieved one pole position in 2017 with the car generally lacking the outright speed of the DJR Team Penske cars, particularly McLaughlin who has taken 14 pole positions so far in 2017
Coulthard has the second-most amount of race victories in 2017 with four, but has only achieved a total of 10 podiums, but like Whincup, has consistently finished inside the Top 10, only missing out on a Top 10 on four occasions (three if you discount Race Three of the championship), but hasn’t had the one lap speed of his teammate McLaughlin, only achieving a single pole position up to this point in 2017, having an average qualifying position of 6.68.
McLaughlin has had the most race victories in 2017 with seven, and a total of 13 podiums, capitalising on his strong qualifying form, having an average qualifying position of 2.54. However, McLaughlin has finished outside of the Top 10 on six occasions, the most of any of the title contenders, including suffering a mechanical-induced retirement at the Bathurst 1000, costing McLaughlin vital championship points.
With this, McLaughlin will aim to become the first driver since Garth Tander in 2007, and only the second driver since the Bathurst 1000 became a championship event in 1999 to win the title after retiring from the Bathurst 1000.
Mostert is the underdog in this championship battle, considering that he is the only Prodrive driver in contention. However, Mostert has achieved three race wins, and a further five podiums so far in 2017, finishing outside the Top 10 on three occasions. Mostert has also been consistent in qualifying despite only achieving one pole position, achieving an average qualifying position of 4.86.
Mostert has finished inside the Top 10 in the last 10 races, and is in great form heading into the final two rounds of the season.
Van Gisbergen is the fifth driver in the championship battle, and has achieved four race wins (three if you discount Race Three of the championship), as well as a further six podiums, finishing outside of the Top 10 on only four occasions in 2017. Van Gisbergen also has the second-most pole positions in 2017 with three, and has an average qualifying position of 4.68.
Looking at all of the five contenders, it is going to be very hard to split them in terms of the overall championship, but I think Scott McLaughlin is the favourite, perhaps just ahead of Jamie Whincup due to his superior one lap speed, and I believe that he will convert this to race-winning success under intense pressure in both New Zealand, and at the final event of the year in Newcastle.
However, you wouldn’t back against Whincup to win his seventh championship given his consistency in 2017 compared to the other four championship contenders.
Looking at who will be strong at Pukekohe, the DJR Team Penske has worked better on high speed circuits, and on circuits that have a number of high speed corners, which Pukekohe has.
However, Triple Eight Race Engineering and Prodrive Racing Australia have been strong at Pukekohe in recent years, but I think DJR Team Penske will to a certain extent dominate this weekend to take a stranglehold on the championship, and I believe it will be McLaughlin moving one step closer towards his first championship success in Supercars.