Scott McLaughlin barely had time to celebrate his crowning as the youngest-ever V8 Supercars development series champion, not that the Gold Coast-based Aucklander was annoyed at being virtually dragged off the podium at Sydney Olympic Park today.
The champagne was on ice for good reason because the 19-year-old was swiftly offered a ride in the final instalment of the "main game'' - the historic end point of an exclusive Ford versus Holden rivalry.
Moments after a third-place finish in the 17-lap swansong sealed the Dunlop-backed series, McLaughlin's father Wayne told him Alex Premat's seat in the #33 Fujitsu Racing Holden Commodore was available.
A notable casualty of yesterday's opening 250km race of the Telstra 500, the Frenchman needed medical treatment after collapsing due to heat exhaustion when emerging from his furnace-like cockpit on lap 59.
He was on the road to recovery after succumbing to 50degC temperatures but not passed fit to contest the last race before Nissan and Mercedes join the iconic manufacturers in 2013.
"We had to whisk Scott off the podium and tell him there's an offer on the table do you want it? 'He said 'Sh.t, yeah,'" his proud father told Fairfax Media.
A back marker in 28th position alongside the legendary Russell Ingall, the surprise assignment capped a fantastic fortnight for McLaughlin, who last weekend clinched the inaugural New Zealand V8 SuperTourers title at Ruapuna.
McLaughlin, who finished an impressive sixth when making his Bathurst 1000 debut alongside Jonathon Webb in October, survived an accident-strewn 74-lap test to place 17th in his solo Supercars debut.
A drive-through penalty for a wheel spin while exiting pit lane could not detract from a remarkable year for a rookie who is assured of a full-time gig in 2013 with one of three teams he is currently negotiating with.
"It's a dream come true. This is awesome," he said.
McLaughlin credited his crew and backers Stone Brothers Racing after claiming the Dunlop silverware in a Fujitsu Racing Ford Falcon.
"I couldn't do it without my boys. (After) three years of ups and downs, unbelievable."
Compared to the edge-of-the seat dogfight unfolding ahead of him, McLaughlin enjoyed the equivalent of a Sunday drive knowing he just had to finish to collect his second championship in quick succession.
McLaughlin started at the front of the grid with a 94-point buffer over Scott Pye but was under no pressure to set the pace - he could afford to finish as low as 16th if his closest rival took the chequered flag.
Pye passed him on the opening lap and third-placed Chaz Mostert also got by soon after, leaving the New Zealander to sit back and stay out of trouble.
"Scott wasn't going to get in the battle, he was just sensible and let them go," Dad explained.
He eventually crossed more than 12 seconds behind Pye who held off Mostert to protect second place.
McLaughlin was the most consistent driver over the seven-stop circuit, recording two round victories, three race wins and five podiums. He ended up 73 points clear of Pye.
Holden ace Jamie Whincup had already secured his fourth V8 Supercars title before the final round and teammate Craig Lowndes ensured a one-two finish for Team Vodafone when he trailed Will Davison (Ford Performance racing) to the line.
Mark Winterbottom (Ford Performance Racing) was third overall.
Meanwhile, it was a miserable experience for Kiwis Shane van Gisbergen and Greg Murphy as they contemplate retirement and an uncertain future respectively.
Van Gisbergen, who quits Stone Brothers Racing six months after re-signing until the end of 2015, crashed out on the opening lap yesterday and only made it to lap two second time round before mechanical problems forced him walk to back to pit lane.
He met the luckless and now off-contract Murphy en route after the veteran was shunted into a wall on lap seven - a sadly appropriate end after injury and an uncompetitive Pepsi Max Crew Holden combined to leave him languishing as the last-placed full-time driver. Van Gisbergen was sixth.
- Fairfax Media
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