In just its fourth season competing in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) followed up its impressive team title from the previous season with its first driver’s championship in 2018. The season also will be remembered for one of the best inter-team battles in Supercars history. It was truly a case of the DJR Team Penske versus Triple Eight Race Engineering in a battle to determine the best of Australia’s top motorsports series.
Using the disappointment of falling just short of the 2017 driver’s title as fuel, DJR Team Penske went about its business throughout the 2018 season. The team knew that consistency and minimizing mistakes would be key ingredients to create a successful season. In 2017, DJR Team Penske often had the fastest cars by some margin, but in 2018 that would not always be the case. The team would have to have their wits about them to get the job done.
The results on track revealed one of the most productive campaigns in recent memory with 10 race wins, 13 pole positions and 22 podium results across the No. 12 and No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Falcons teams.
DJRTP knew it had a battle on its hands from the outset of the 2018 season. The new Holden ZB Commodore made its debut in the season-opening race in March at Adelaide and the new car was an absolute rocketship. From the opening flag it was clear that DJRTP was ready to fight for the title, however.
The first win of the season for DJR Team Penske came at Albert Park, in the very first Championship race alongside the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix. That weekend also brought a tough result – one of the team’s few missteps of 2018 – that saw driver Scott McLaughlin finish outside the Top 10 in Race 5. It would be the only time all year that McLaughlin would finish lower than 10th in a race for DJRTP.
The team was cautiously optimistic as it travelled to Tasmania in early April. Finishing as the “best of the rest” behind the Triple Eight team, a Sunday podium for McLaughlin was the highlight. Again, it was slick pit stops and team strategy that got the result, not outright speed.
DJRTP really hit its stride across the Phillip Island, Perth, Winton and Darwin weekends taking six out of the eight race wins through that period, including Fabian Coulthard’s victory in the No. 12 Shell V-Power Ford at Winton, McLaughlin’s incredible 19th to first effort at Barbagallo and DJR Team Penske’s 100th all-time win in Darwin.
The team fared well at Townsville with a pair of podium finishes, before it returned to the top step with McLaughlin’s at Ipswich. A podium finish under lights in Sydney with McLaughlin followed for DJRTP.
The Bend brought the lowest point of the season for the team and, in many regards, a turning point for 2018. It proved to be a frustrating weekend on the track as both McLaughlin and Coulthard could only produce a 10th place result as its top finish across the two races.
Sandown was another event where the Holdens looked to distance themselves from the field, but the team rallied and again finished as the best of the rest – earning a strong points haul to continue McLaughlin’s title chase.
Heading to the biggest race of the year at Bathurst, the team was not sure of how things were going to play out. Following McLaughlin’s incredible pole lap at the legendary track in 2017 and the podium result for Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto, DJRTP knew the pace was there. While 2018 didn’t bring the pole, McLaughlin and his co-driver Alex Premat scored a strong podium finish to again bank a solid points haul. The stage was set for the Championship battle to go down to the wire.
The Gold Coast weekend proved to be an odd one, with only one race counting towards the Championship. Sunday’s event ended in a literal storm that flooded garages and forced the cancellation of the race. McLaughlin headed to the next event in New Zealand with a slim 14-point margin to Triple Eight’s Shane van Gisbergen.
On their home turf, the two kiwis duked it out like heavyweights. Van Gisbergen scored the win on Saturday under controversial circumstances, but it was McLaughlin that landed the knockout blow on Sunday. The DJRTP racer took the win and the Jason Richards Trophy back to Australia for his efforts.
The Championship showdown was then set. Two drivers. Two races. The Newcastle 500 was going to be one for the ages. Though he wasn’t in contention for the crown, Coulthard was a big factor for DJRTP. The veteran driver proved to be the perfect teammate to McLaughlin as he chased the Championship.
The weekend featured plenty of controversy and off-track politicking, but in the end, Scott McLaughlin earned a victory and second-place finish in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford as he was crowned the 2018 Virgin Australia Supercars Champion. The rest is history.
Reflecting on his year, McLaughlin still finds it hard to believe that he has achieved a childhood dream.
“I was just so relieved! Last year was just a massive kick in the guts, and I feel like we built all year to come back and turn that negative into a positive. I’m so proud to have gotten this done for everyone at DJR Team Penske. It means everything. I never dreamed of being a Formula 1 driver, I dreamed of having my name on this trophy, and now I’ve got that done,” said McLaughlin.
“There are some amazing names on this trophy, and to have my name on that trophy is incredible,” added McLaughlin. “Taking DJR Team Penske’s first Supercars Championship was a pretty surreal moment. Now we’ve got to work even harder to do it again next year.”
Fabian Coulthard pondered what might have been, given his pace in the back half of the season. But he also was excited for the future and the debut of the new Ford Mustang in the series in 2019.
“Firstly, a massive congrats to Scotty and the team on getting the championship win. It’s been a huge effort from everyone to get it done, and I’m proud to be a part of this team,” said Coulthard.
“I knew coming into the Newcastle weekend, we needed to be fast and be a nuisance to our rivals, and I think we achieved that,” added Coulthard. “For me, there’s positives to come out of the final weekend. We were fast on the Newcastle street circuit, so I’m really looking forward to going to Adelaide 2019 in the Mustang.
“It’s been one of the tougher years I’ve had regarding my personal results, but the light at the end of the tunnel is very bright and I’m looking forward to coming back and giving it a red hot go in 2019.”