Bitter rivals go to war in final-round thriller
THE one-on-one fight for the V8 crown will go down to the wire after Scott McLaughlin and bitter rival Shane van Gisbergen split the points at the penultimate round in Auckland at the weekend.
A day after his Red Bull Holden Racing Team rival used him as a speed bump to deliver a psychological beating, McLaughlin flew in his Falcon to floor van Gisbergen and set up a Newcastle 500 heart-stopper.
In one of the closest deciders in V8 history, McLaughlin will take a 14-point lead into the final event of the year after surviving a Red Bull onslaught to win the second instalment of the Auckland Super Sprint.
"That is unreal,'' McLaughlin said.
"I was under a lot of pressure and to win in front of my home crowd means so much.
"It was my best win.''
The war between McLaughlin and van Gisbergen reached fever pitch in New Zealand with penalties and protests adding to the ferocious on track fight.
DJR/Team Penske had a protest dismissed after they appealed a decision to allow Shane van Gisbergen to escape penalty for a spinning wheel in pit-lane during race one.
"I just couldn't worry about all that other stuff,'' McLaughlin said.
"The post-race stuff was pretty full on but I just had to get on with my job.''
And McLaughlin got the job done by surviving a last-lap onslaught from Jamie Whincup to bounce back from the controversial loss that saw his lead slashed to just two points.
"That was full on,'' McLaughlin said.
"They were playing the championship game''
"One of the hardest races I have had in a long time. I am just proud of the team for giving me a better race car today and for getting the job done.
"To bounce back after those head games or whatever with one of my best drives is a good feeling.''
The controversy continued when Whincup allowed van Gisbergen to pass on the last lap with a move that allowed his Red Bull teammate to collect another nine championship points.
"They were playing the championship game,'' McLaughlin said.
"And that is fine.''
McLaughlin set up his hit-back victory over van Gisbergen by beating his Kiwi rival in the Top 10 shootout that was won by Whincup.
Continuing his qualifying dominance over his combatant, McLaughlin finished 0.1314 seconds in front of van Gisbergen to claim a front row start alongside Whincup.
"We're side-by-side so we've got an equal chance of getting to Turn 1 first,'' McLaughlin said.
"My start was good, so if we can do that again (we'll be fine)."
But it was Whincup who won the start-line fight leaving McLaughlin to focus on his fight with van Gisbergen when the Red Bull driver fired into third.
The first round of stops finished with McLaughlin claiming another win when a false drop cost van Gisbergen track position.
McLaughlin passed Whincup in the pits during the second stop to claim the lead of the race while van Gisbergen emerged in fifth.
"I felt like the pit-stops and strategy was all on point,'' McLaughlin said.
"I am stoked.''
Van Gisbergen fought his way back to second after the dodgy pit stop put him out
of the fight.
"We just tweaked the car the wrong way,'' van Gisbergen said.
"So that was a shame and I couldn't get it right myself. It was a tough day for us but I will be back in a couple of weeks to have a go.''
The championship will be decided at the Newcastle 500, beginning November 23.