Rick Kelly rates Scott McLaughin's chance for Supercars title
Veteran Supercars driver Rick Kelly says Scott McLaughlin has got what it takes to win this year's championship but warns not to rule out the Triple Eight cars.
McLaughlin is leading the Supercars championship by 129 points over second placed Jamie Whincup, with Fabian Coulthard and Shane van Gisbergen not far behind.
Given how he's gone over the first half of the season, the 24-year-old from Christchurch is favourite to win this year's championship,
Although McLaughlin's DJR Team Penske team-mate Coulthard is in the hunt, The Triple Eight Red Bull Racing cars driven by Whincup and van Gisbergen are looming large.
"Scotty is definitely driving at the level to win a championship," Kelly said.
"Also, the team behind him has also developed into one that's capable of beating everyone else and winning the championship.
"When you combine those two things, he's going to be very difficult to beat, but in saying that, Triple Eight have had a dominant 10 or so years and I'd say Shane van Gisbergen is probably the most talented driver in the series.
"He's going to be a real threat to those guys, but the thing Scotty has got going for him at the moment his just that outright pace.
"The string of pole positions he's had (10 of the last 12 races) makes him so hard to beat, because qualifying is so important."
The next race in the season is at Sydney Motorsport Park next weekend. After that it's the three enduro rounds at Sandown, Bathurst and Gold Coast, followed by the ITM Auckland Super Sprint on November 3-5.
The Pukekohe track is one of the favourites for the Supercars drivers and it's also one of the fastest.
There was doubt about the future of the New Zealand event, but a new three year agreement to remain as the venue is close to being signed off.
Kelly, who is a part owner of the team he drives for, Kelly Racing, says it's crucial for a number of reasons that Supercars keeps coming back to New Zealand.
"Personally I think it's very important because I love coming here," he said.
"That stems way back from when I was Greg Murphy's team-mate and that opened my eyes to racing in New Zealand.
"In addition to that for a lot of the sponsors we have, this is a very important market for them.
"Sengled, my naming rights sponsor, have customers and suppliers in New Zealand, so it's critical for their business.
"So this is an important market for us and that's why it's vital for us to continue to come over here."
It's been an average season behind the wheel for Kelly, he's lying in 14th in the championship, while the next best driver in one of the Nissan Altimas is his brother, Todd, in 18th place.
"The bottom line is that we still don't have the outright pace that those other guys do and that's what brings on some of that inconsistency," Kelly said.
"So we've got a pole here and there and some good qualifying results, but to be there every day you need to have that consistency and outright pace, which is what we're trying to develop in our package."