Just 14 points separate McLaughlin (3656 points) and Van Gisbergen (3642 points) with both having stellar seasons, but within those stellar seasons, they have both had down moments.
McLaughlin has claimed eight wins and 19 podiums overall in 29 races, including four-straight wins from Race 9 to Race 12 of the season (Phillip Island and Barbagallo), and 13 podiums in 14 races, including a streak of eight-straight podiums, but before winning Race 29 at Pukekohe in New Zealand, McLaughlin had gone nine completed races without a race victory.
Conversely, Van Gisbergen started off the season superbly by winning the opening two races of the season in Adelaide, before going 15 races without win. After this barren run though, Van Gisbergen won four of the next five races from Race 18 to 22 of the championship (Townsville, Ipswich, Sydney Motorsport Park, and The Bend Motorsport Park), , and of course won Race 28 of the championship at Pukekohe in New Zealand to give us a titanic fight in Newcastle. Overall, Van Gisbergen has had seven wins and 17 podiums in 29 races coming into Newcastle.
During the season, McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen have finished first and second (in either order) in the same race five times in 2018, and with the championship battle set to be a “winner takes all” scenario, things are certain to heat up!
Looking at the Newcastle Street Circuit on paper, it is a circuit that should suit Triple Eight Race Engineering and the Holden ZB Commodore, given the lack of long, fast corners, and the point and squirt nature of the circuit.
However, despite street circuits typically lacking grip compared to your normal permanent venue, I expect the Newcastle Street Circuit to provide plenty of grip, which should suit DJR Team Penske and their Ford FG X Falcon beautifully, but on a circuit that I consider “The Monaco of the South”, anything can happen.
What also should be considered within the battle for the championship is the battle for third in the standings between Jamie Whincup (3175 points), Craig Lowndes (3117 points), and David Reynolds (2918 points), three drivers in strong cars who are capable of deciding who wins the championship.
Of course both Whincup and Lowndes are both teammates of Van Gisbergen, and will be looking to do what they can to help their Kiwi teammate claim his second championship. However, it will be an emotional weekend for Lowndes as he competes in what will be his final full-time Supercars Championship event, and the three-time Supercars champion will be looking to do what he can to beat seven-time Supercars champion Whincup into third in the championship, and maybe claim one last victory as a full-time driver.
Reynolds is the interesting one though, 257 points behind third-place Whincup and unlikely to get third, and 249 points ahead of sixth-place Chaz Mostert (2669 points) and unlikely to be surpassed for fifth in the championship, and the highest-ranked driver in the standings not associated with either Triple Eight Race Engineering or DJR Team Penske, so he is the most likely driver, along with Mostert that you think could sway the outcome of the championship one way or another.
So, what are the championship permutations?
For Saturday, only Scott McLaughlin can claim the championship over Shane Van Gisbergen with one race remaining:
- If McLaughlin finishes 1st or 2nd, and Van Gisbergen retires from the race.
I will update the championship permutations before Race 31 of the championship on Sunday morning should the battle continue through to Sunday.
So, who will win both races at the Newcastle 500, and who will claim the 2018 Supercars Championship?
I think if qualifying goes to the form book, I think Saturday’s race will be a largely normal race, and I think Shane Van Gisbergen will win Race 30 of the season, with Scott McLaughlin finishing second or third.
However, I think Sunday’s race, regardless of whether qualifying and the Top 10 Shootout goes to form or not, will be chaotic, and my gut feeling tells me something is going to happen between McLaughlin and Van Gisbergen that is going to decide the championship, and/or have major repercussions going forward.
However, regardless of what happens, I cannot wait to see what unfolds!
After Shane Van Gisbergen was given a post-race 25-second time penalty for a Breach of Rule D220.127.116.11. after Race 30 of the championship, dropping him from 1st to 5th, thus giving Scott McLaughlin his ninth race victory of the season, it means the championship picture has changed going into the final race of the season, with McLaughlin now having a 53-point lead in the standings over Van Gisbergen.
So, McLaughlin can win his first championship:
1. If McLaughlin finishes ahead of Van Gisbergen.
2. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 6th or higher.
3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 8th or higher.
4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 10th or higher.
5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 12th or higher.
6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 15th or higher.
7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 18th or higher.
8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 20th or higher.
9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 22nd or higher.
10. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 24th or higher.
11. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must finish the race (26th or higher).
12. If Van Gisbergen finishes 18th or lower, McLaughlin is the CHAMPION!
Van Gisbergen can win his second championship:
1. If Van Gisbergen wins the race, McLaughlin must finish 7th or lower.
2. If Van Gisbergen finishes 2nd, McLaughlin must finish 9th or lower.
3. If Van Gisbergen finishes 3rd, McLaughlin must finish 11th or lower.
4. If Van Gisbergen finishes 4th, McLaughlin must finish 13th or lower.
5. If Van Gisbergen finishes 5th, McLaughlin must finish 16th or lower.
6. If Van Gisbergen finishes 6th, McLaughlin must finish 19th or lower.
7. If Van Gisbergen finishes 7th, McLaughlin must finish 21st or lower.
8. If Van Gisbergen finishes 8th, McLaughlin must finish 23rd or lower.
9. If Van Gisbergen finishes 9th, McLaughlin must finish 25th or lower.
10. If Van Gisbergen finishes between 10th and 17th, McLaughlin must not finish the race/not score points.