Back-to-back podiums including a victory has elevated Kiwi driver Fabian Coulthard into serious contention in the V8 Supercars Championship.
After qualifying on pole for both 100km races at the Winton 400 near Melbourne today, Coulthard enjoyed a win in the first race and a third placing to move him to second place in the championship, just 19 points from leader Craig Lowndes.
The 31-year-old New Zealander guided the Lockwood Racing Holden to an emphatic win in the first 100km race, taking full advantage of supreme speed on the ultra-sticky surface at Winton.
With the adhesive qualities worn off for the second race, Coulthard had to hold on as his tyres wore thin, settling for third after leading for much of the race.
Fellow Kiwis Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin had mixed fortunes. Van Gisbergen pushed Coulthard hard to claim second place in the opening race, but his car struggled leaving him back in 20th after showing some early speed.
McLaughlin had mechanical issues that forced his retirement from the opening race, but zoomed to the lead over Coulthard after qualifying at the front of the grid in the second race. His team made a hasty engine change between races but an electrical issue forced him in to the pits while he was still in the race lead.
There was further New Zealand celebration with the historic first V8 Supercars victory for Erebus Racing and the Mercedes E63 AMG in the hands of Lee Holdsworth. The team morphed out of Stone Brothers Racing last year with Ross Stone, who was brought up near Pukekohe, the general manager who guided the development of the Mercedes from scratch.
While still very early in the season, Coulthard is now sandwiched between the Red Bull Racing pair of Craig Lowndes (605) and defending champion Jamie Whincup (528) in the championship after both struggled in the changing conditions today.
Van Gisbergen moves to fifth place in the series with McLaughlin ninth despite his troubles."It was a really good day with two podiums including a win," Coulthard said. "It was a case of holding on a bit in that second race but overall I am really pleased.
"I've always said the most important thing is to race consistently and not make mistakes. We had fantastic qualifying speed today to get two poles and that allows you to keep clear of the dangers racing in the mid-pack.
"I am not getting carried away. We have got to come back tomorrow and qualify well and then plan for a 200km race which is going to be a challenge in these track conditions."
There is a further qualifying session tomorrow ahead of the 68-lap race which includes two compulsory pit stops.
It sets up a strong position for the Kiwi drivers who after tomorrow's race can turn their attentions to the sole New Zealand stop of the V8 Supercars Championship at the Auckland 500 at Pukekohe Park Raceway over Anzac Weekend.
- Fairfax Media
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