Whincup seizes Supercars title from McLaughlin after penalty

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The Virgin Australia Supercars Championship isn’t a series we cover regularly on MotorSportsTalk, but it is something we need to look at today following an utterly dramatic finale at the Newcastle circuit at the weekend.

Jamie Whincup, of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team and Triple 8 Racing Race Engineering, snatched the title post-race from DJR Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, in his Shell V-Power Racing Ford, after McLaughlin was assessed a post-race 25-second time penalty for what the stewards deemed to be reckless driving.

An odd race saw McLaughlin, in the driver’s seat for both his and Penske’s first Supercars driver’s championship (DJR Team Penske did win the team’s championship) penalized three times (drive-through for pit lane speeding and a 15-second penalty for spinning Simona de Silvestro occurred earlier), but none worse than the crushing blow after a final lap battle.

Similar to the 2008 Formula 1 season finale in Brazil, McLaughlin was further down the order than he should have been in position to clinch the title, and required a dramatic last-lap pass up the inside of another car for a spot to gain. In that F1 race, Lewis Hamilton got Timo Glock for fifth place, and in Newcastle, it was McLaughlin’s turn to pass James Moffat for 11th. That position would have netted McLaughlin the title on countback over Whincup.

Although McLaughlin passed him to get through, and thus secure the position he needed to clinch the championship, what he hadn’t planned for was TeamVortex’s Craig Lowndes to attack up the inside and try to deny him in his Holden.

The odd nature of the Newcastle street course meant after Turn 1 there was a gap in the wall driver’s left, and the bumpy track could unsettle the corner and upset its stability. That set up the dramatic moment.

As McLaughlin got a poor corner exit, he then sought to defend the position ahead of a surging Lowndes, who he didn’t know was alongside because he’d lost his left side mirror earlier in the race. But the two collided, with Lowndes then losing the back-end on the run to Turn 2 and hitting the wall after sustaining left front tire damage following wall contact.

Whincup won the race but wasn’t assured the title until McLaughlin’s penalty was assessed. The 25-second time penalty dropped him down to 18th, and ensured Whincup had his seventh series championship (first since 2014) by 21 points.

Whincup was stunned even after the fact as he watched a replay of the contact, as in the immediate aftermath he couldn’t believe his fortune.

“I’m lost for words. I didn’t have a clue crossing the line, I assumed I came second and the crew goes ‘you’ve got number one’,” Whincup said, via Supercars.com.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Jamie Whincup driver of the #88 Red Bull Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore VF celebrates after winning race 26 and the 2017 Supercars Drivers Championship during the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

McLaughlin was understandably gutted; the breakout season came up just short.

“I lost my left-hand mirror so early. I knew we were close, but I didn’t think we were that close, I just defended the line into Turn 2 and we got interlocked and I genuinely didn’t mean to push him into he wall,” he said.

“To get pinged like that… I shouldn’t have even been there in the first place. That’s hard.”

While McLaughlin was gutted, Roger Penske, who was on site in Australia, was furious.

“I’m not really sure what happened with Lowndes. It looked like, you know, he was there (McLaughlin was past Lowndes) and to give us a 25 seconds penalty is pretty outrageous. But it is what it is,” Penske said, via Speedcafe.com.

The loss cost Team Penske its second driver’s title in two series this year, with Josef Newgarden having won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship at Sonoma in September.

Penske was, however, on site for that championship victory there, in Miami last week as the No. 22 Team Penske Ford won the NASCAR Xfinity Series owner’s championship, and on site this weekend in Australia for DJR Team Penske to have claimed the Supercars team’s championship. Beyond McLaughlin, who ended second in points, teammate Fabian Coulthard was third after a dynamic season.

NEWCASTLE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 26: Scott McLaughlin drives the #17 Shell V-Power Racing Team Ford Falcon FGX leads the field into turn 1 at the start of race 26 for the Newcastle 500, which is part of the Supercars Championship at Newcastle Street Circuit on November 26, 2017 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.