Ford driver Scott McLaughlin won’t let another Bathurst controversy tarnish his back-to-back Supercars championship success.
The DJR Team Penske star secured consecutive titles at Sunday’s Sandown 500, won by Red Bull Holden Racing Team duo Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes.
Starting from last place on the grid after being penalised for a breach of engine regulations during qualifying and the top 10 shootout at last month’s Bathurst 1000, McLaughlin came home ninth.
That result means he has an unassailable 550-point lead heading into the season finale later this month at Newcastle.
Despite the success, celebrations were kept to a minimum by McLaughlin and his team after the earlier news about the Bathurst breach.
Just hours before Sunday’s race was set to start, stewards revealed McLaughlin’s Mustang engine had “exceeded the maximum permitted valve lift”.
In response, McLaughlin and co-driver Alex Premat were sent to the back of the grid for Sunday’s Sandown race and DJR Team Penske were fined $30,000.
McLaughlin has also been stripped of his pole position and lap record from Mount Panorama but retains his race win given his team had changed the engine for the 1000km event.
It’s the second time DJR Team Penske have been fined since a controversial Bathurst. A partially suspended $250,000 fine and the loss of 300 team championship points were imposed after Fabian Coulthard was directed to hold up the field during a late safety car.
Coulthard was relegated to 21st after the “go slow” tactics allowed leading duo McLaughlin and Whincup to pit without conceding track position.
Throw in a car-wrecking crash before the second race of the Gold Coast 600 and McLaughlin admits he’s had a rough few weeks despite his successes.
“It’s crazy. My tough months are a lot better than others, that’s for sure,” McLaughlin said.
“I’m proud of what we’ve done. I’m proud of winning Bathurst and I’m proud of winning the championship, don’t get me wrong.
“Off track, it’s just been political and, unfortunately for the sport, it’s getting like that and it has been like that all year. We’re just going to have to push on and fight them off.”
The penalties and controversies threaten to sour what has been a stellar year for McLaughlin in which he has won a record 18 races.
The 26-year-old, however, is unperturbed by outside opinions.
“I don’t care what anyone else thinks. I’m proud of what we’ve done as a team,” he said.
“There’s always conjecture and, basically, the majority of people are pretty upset about our year and they have been from the start when we started winning.
“Whatever – we push on as a team. I’m proud of everyone.”
Needing simply to finish Sunday’s 161-lap race to claim the title, McLaughlin and Premat kept their heads down in the middle of the pack for much of the race.
Instead, it was Shane van Gisbergen’s co-driver Garth Tander who produced a stellar drive to lift the Red Bull Holden Racing Team pairing from 24th on the start line to third when he handed the car over after 72 laps.
Van Gisbergen jumped teammate Whincup in the final round of pit stops to move into the lead and appeared to be cruising to a maiden Sandown endurance win when disaster struck.
A failure in his right rear suspension forced him to pit, with the New Zealander eventually finishing 17th.
Whincup made the most of his fortune to win, coming home ahead of Tickford Racing’s Chaz Mostert and James Moffat with stablemates Lee Holdsworth and Thomas Randle finishing third.
With their Sunday triumph, Whincup and Lowndes also take out the Enduro Cup, awarded for the overall points’ winners from Sandown, Gold Coast and Bathurst.
The Supercars season wraps up with the Newcastle 500 from November 22 to 24.