Tension between Supercars title rivals Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin bubbled over on Saturday at Pukekohe Park, as the Aucklander won a championship-tightening victory over his countryman.
The result could – and probably should – be overturned by stewards as they assess whether the Red Bull HRT driver’s pit lane wheel-spin is worth a penalty.
That would be van Gisbergen’s second penalty of the day after he was docked five seconds for bumping McLaughlin en route to the race lead.
In any case, in psychological terms, van Gisbergen struck a huge blow against McLaughlin, romping all over him on the track and then belittling him off it.
Van Gisbergen played the role of alpha dog as he pulled his Commodore alongside McLaughlin’s Falcon after the race, denying his rival enough room to get out as he celebrated his race win wildly.
The 2016 champion said he “didn’t mean to do that, but whatever” before apologising after the race.
“I didn’t realise I did it until after and it was pretty awkward … I was just excited to jump out, get on the roof and start cheering,” he said.
McLaughlin, sitting alongside his rival, deadpanned his response.
“It is what it is. Obviously, it was a mistake,” he said.
Van Gisbergen jokingly countered “I’m sure he’ll get me back for it”, to which McLaughlin sharply responded “yeah, tomorrow, when you finish second”.
While McLaughlin could yet claim the win after the stewards’ determination, there was no doubt Red Bull held superior pace on Saturday.
Van Gisbergen looked a winner even as he turned into the first corner in second place, dramatically swinging his Commodore in front of third-placed David Reynolds as if to deny him oxygen.
His relentless pursuit of McLaughlin had begun and, after a safety car for Fabian Coulthard’s unfortunate exit, he had his man shortly after with a dive- bomb move on turn eight.
After McLaughlin’s DJR Team Penske outfit won their man back the lead by undercutting van Gisbergen in the pits, van Gisbergen overtook him with the contentious move to lead again.
“Seeing the crowd as we were side by side was awesome,” van Gisbergen said.
“The next few laps, everyone cheering, it was one of the coolest races I’ve ever had.”
McLaughlin denied any confidence hit after the race as he clung to a two-point lead over van Gisbergen.
“I got pole today and second. It’s not a bad thing. We’re still leading the championship. I’m happy,” he said.
“We’ve got a few things we need to work on.
“We fixed it throughout the race and we need to do more and we know where we can make our car go better.”