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Supercars: Fabian Coulthard wins Race 14, Winton SuperSprint

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FABIAN Coulthard’s first Supercars win of 2018 may be one of his sweetest.

The Kiwi put to bed a rough start to the season to claim an emphatic victory in Race 14 at the Winton SuperSprint.

“I can’t thank my guys enough,” Coulthard said, the win his first in nine months.

The key moment came at the start, Coulthard blazing into the lead while his DJR Team Penske teammate went nowhere, sinking towards the bottom of the top 10.

“I don’t know what happened to Scotty, it was unfortunate,” he said.

“It would’ve been nice to have the two Shell V-Power cars coming 1-2 through the first two corners, but it wasn’t to be.”

Strategy brought McLaughlin back up to third place, the DJR Team Penske pair split by Shane van Gisbergen for an all-New Zealand podium.

Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso rounded out the top five.

Only 25 cars arrived on the grid for the race start; Cam Waters peeled off into the pits at the end of the formation lap. He’d had an identical driveshaft failure to the one that ended his Saturday race, resuming four laps after the lights went out.

McLaughlin made a shocker of a start from pole, getting duffed up by the Red Bull duo at Turns 3 and 4 before finally steadying in eighth.

That left Fabian Coulthard leading a fast-starting Micheael Caruso, Saturday winner Rick Kelly, Chaz Mostert, Scott Pye, Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen.

The first stops came on Lap 2, Anton De Pasquale, James Courtney, Jack Le Brocq and James Golding all pitting. The first two engaged in a barging match that ended with the Boost Mobile Holden off the road at Turn 7. His dramas continued into the next lap, getting edged off at Turn 2 by Le Brocq.

DJR Team Penske elected to bring McLaughlin in on Lap 5, hoping the clear air would allow him to vault his way back up the field.

The strategy did the job. After the cars ahead of him made their first stops, McLaughlin had moved past all but his teammate.

But the early stop and his charging in clean air took its toll on his tyres. Caruso sat glued to the Shell Ford’s rear bumper, while Pye and Whincup both closed onto their tails.

Coulthard, SVG, Slade and De Silvestro all waited until the 21st lap to head to the lane for their first stops, Stanaway coming in from the lead a lap later to complete the opening round of stops.

DJRTP had restored their 1-2, Coulthard and McLaughlin running three seconds apart at the front of the field, the former making use of his fresher tyres to immediately start pulling a gap on his teammate.

All the other late-stoppers had their progress impeded by cars in front of them. Slade rounded up the similarly late-stopping Mostert for seventh on Lap 25, immediately starting to close in on Kelly two seconds ahead of him. Van Gisbergen was behind them, having taken on more fuel at his stop, but closed quickly on Mostert before picking him off a couple of laps later.

The final round of stops began early, Reynolds pitting from the mid-field on Lap 27, beyond the critical lap where teams could fill up and make it home on fuel. De Pasquale and Courtney came into the pits together again a lap later, this time emerging without contact - the latter sneaking past the former at Turn 3.

The leaders began pitting on Lap 29 when Kelly headed to the lane, McLaughlin, Caruso and Pye all responding a lap later.

The Castrol Nissan slotted into the group between McLaughlin and Caruso, but only after the Drive.com.au Altima tried everything to hold him off down the old pit straight.

Whincup and Tander were next to pit, the reigning champion emerging ahead of Pye but lost the spot when they arrived at Turn 3.

Coulthard again stayed out longer than the rest, but meant he soon started lapping cars that had already completed their second stops.

He headed to the lane on Lap 39 and emerged over seven seconds clear of McLaughlin.

Van Gisbergen headed to the lane on Lap 42, just as drivers began reporting a few spots of rain around the track.

The Red Bull Holden emerged between McLaughlin and Kelly, but armed with 12-lap better tyres than the No.17 Shell Ford for the run home.

Lowndes and Winterbottom were the last of all to make their second stops, Coulthard resuming the lead on Lap 46 with a margin of six seconds over McLaughlin and a directive to save tyres in case of a late Safety Car.

But the championship leader’s focus was on his rear-view mirror.

SVG was slicing his deficit down quickly, closing to within a second of McLaughlin by Lap 49.

Within a lap he was into second place, giving a loud cheer over the radio after getting the job done at Turn 10.

Further down the field, Courtney had been handed a 15-second time penalty after an incident that left former teammate Tander spinning at Turn 7.

Starting with a deficit to the leader of 7.5 seconds, van Gisbergen set to work. He reeled off personal best after personal best to trim down Coulthard’s advantage - but not quickly enough.

With 10 laps to go the distance between them sat at an even six seconds and grew no smaller.

In fact, it blew out in the closing stages to the point where Coulthard had over 11 seconds up his sleeve as he took the chequered flag.

The win is his first since Sydney Motorsport Park last year, and his first with new race engineer Mark Fenning.

Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin rounded out an all-Kiwi podium, Saturday star Rick Kelly and Michael Caruso completing an impressive weekend for Nissan with fourth and fifth.

Pye, Slade and Whincup were next, Richie Stanaway taking his best solo finish in Supercars in ninth and best of the Tickford cars, while teammate Chaz Mostert completed the top 10.

Andre Heimgartner was next from Craig Lowndes, whose late stop gave him good enough tyres to charge from outside the top 20 to 12th in the closing laps, Will Davison his last victim in the final couple of tours.

Courtney crossed the line 14th but dropped down to 19th with his penalty, meaning Percat, Reynolds, De Pasquale, Le Brocq and Tim Blanchard all moved up a spot.

Winterbottom didn’t enjoy much birthday luck on his run to 20th, with Holdsworth, Tander, De Silvestro, Hazelwood, Golding and the five-lap down Waters rounding out the field.

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