Supercars Championship DJR Team Penske Season Review

January 2, 2018

The 2017 season began with great promise for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) as all the ingredients appeared to be coming together to create something special for the two-car team in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.  

Shell returned to the team in a comprehensive partnership, representing a homecoming for the iconic brand. Shell spent much of the 1980s and 1990s as the naming rights partner of Dick Johnson Racing (DJR), so seeing the Shell-branded Fords back on track was a familiar sight for the team entering its third season of the collaboration between DJR and Team Penske.

Young up-and-coming driver Scott McLaughlin was welcomed to DJR Team Penske in the offseason, and he brought his contagious enthusiasm and undeniable talent to the team, alongside incumbent Kiwi Fabian Coulthard, who was beginning his second season with the program.

The final piece of the puzzle was the arrival of driven French technical genius Ludo Lacriox, who came on board as Competition Director and Race Engineer for McLaughlin in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford.

The team showed promise from the very first moments of the year when the cars came together ahead of the season-opening test at Sydney Motorsport Park in February. With the full Virgin Australia Supercars Championship field testing, McLaughlin posted the second-fastest test time – under the existing Sydney Motorsport Park lap record – and Coulthard clocked the third-quickest lap. The signs were all positive for the team heading into the season-opening Adelaide 500.

The Adelaide 500 is always an entertaining event, with the South Australian capital renowned as Australia’s sporting city. DJR Team Penske experienced excellent results to open 2017, with a pair of podium finishes for Coulthard and McLaughlin.

The second event of the season was the non-championship Australian Grand Prix support races. It proved to be a breakout weekend for the team, with the four races netting three poles and three victories – two for Coulthard and one for McLaughlin.

Round two of the championship saw the teams head to the small island of Tasmania, off the southern Victorian coast, for the Tyrepower Tasmania SuperSprint. Coulthard took DJR Team Penske’s first points-paying victory in the 200 kilometer (124 mile) Sunday race, with McLaughlin right behind to record a 1-2 finish for the team – another first for DJRTP. McLaughlin began what would be an incredible run of 18 front row starts in succession at Tasmania, as he qualified first on Saturday and second on Sunday.

Round three was held at the picturesque Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit. The fast, flowing nature of the circuit, combined with its high grip, abrasive surface saw a multitude of tire issues from competitors throughout the weekend. Despite a tire blowout himself, Coulthard drove a very smart strategy race on the Saturday to record his second victory of 2017. The win allowed him to ascend to the championship points lead for the first time in his career. McLaughlin captured two pole positions, but the young gun had frustrating race finishes over the weekend.

Bouyed by strong pace, and a visit from Roger Penske, the team and drivers turned their attention to the Perth SuperSprint at Barbagallo Raceway. The biggest road trip of the season saw teams travel 4,400 km (nearly 2,800 miles) to the Western most capital city in the country. McLaughlin produced his first points victory of the season in the Saturday race, with Coulthard in second for the team’s second 1-2 result of 2017. McLaughlin backed up that success with another victory on Sunday, which helped launch a serious assault on the series championship throughout the rest of the season.

The pole positions and victories continued for McLaughlin at Winton, while Coulthard earned a double podium at the rural Victorian venue.

Next up on the schedule was the hottest event of the season, in Darwin, the capital of the tropical Northern Territory. With temperatures hovering around 38 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), the weekend proved to be tough on teams, drivers and fans.

McLaughlin continued his front-row start streak, as he scored another pole while both drivers tallied race wins – Coulthard on Saturday and McLaughlin on Sunday. McLaughlin’s second-place finish on Saturday also produced the team’s third 1-2 finish of the season.

The series continued its tropical racing as Townsville in North Queensland hosted the next rounds on a hybrid street circuit layout. It proved to be a tough weekend for Coulthard, with only a single top-10 result. McLaughlin continued his momentum, as he won two poles and claimed a race victory and second-place result to take control of the series championship lead for the first time in 2017.

The next stop on the circuit was a “home” event for DJR Team Penske, held at the regular test circuit Queensland Raceway, west of Brisbane. The McLaughlin qualifying steamroller was unstoppable at this point of the season, as he captured both poles for the weekend, before converting them into a victory and second-place finish. Coulthard also had a solid weekend, with a pair of top-six finishes.

The fast, flowing Sydney Motorsport Park circuit hosted its second Supercars event of 2017 in August, following the test in February. McLaughlin’s pole pace rolled on as he posted two poles for the weekend – his 12th and 13th of the year. Incredibly, this saw him wrap up the series season pole award, with eight races left to run in 2017. But it was Coulthard that would produce the best results for the weekend, as he claimed a win and second-place finish across the 320 km (200 miles) of racing.  

The Pirtek Endurance Cup section of the Supercars championship started with the Sandown 500. The endurance races welcome an additional driver to share the duties behind the wheel. For 2017, Frenchman Alex Premat joined McLaughlin in the No. 17 Ford, reuniting the drivers who were teammates from 2013-2015. Tony D’Alberto raced in his second year with DJR Team Penske, as he joined Coulthard in the No. 12 Shell V-Power Ford. McLaughlin/Premat started from second place as Coulthard/D’Alberto qualified fifth. After 500 km (310 miles) of epic racing in changeable conditions, the No. 17 Ford finished second while the No. 12 Ford brought home fifth place.

Australian Motorsport’s Holy Grail – the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 around the hallowed Mount Panorama circuit in the central west of New South Wales was next and it annually ranks as the race that everyone wants to win more than any other. The DJR Team Penske cars were quick all weekend and McLaughlin created history with a scorching 2:03.81 record lap in qualifying to register the first Supercar lap under 2:04, as he captured his 14th pole of the season. Unfortunately, the No. 17 Ford suffered engine failure in Sunday’s race, which resulted in a DNF (did not finish). Coulthard and D’Alberto started the 1000 km (620 mile) race in seventh place and worked their way through the field across the day in horrible conditions to earn a hard-fought podium and third-place result.

Street racing returned to the championship a race around the Surfers Paradise circuit in Queensland. Saturday’s 300 km (186 mile) race was a struggle for the team as both cars finished outside of the top 10. Despite a lack of qualifying pace, Sunday brought better results with McLaughlin and Premat racing from 13th on the grid to an incredible victory – marking the lowest ever starting position for a winner on the Gold Coast circuit.

With both Coulthard and McLaughlin hailing from New Zealand, the Auckland SuperSprint was an important event for the drivers and the team. McLaughlin had a solid weekend as he earned a pair of podium results in the two 200 km (125 mile) races. Coulthard’s weekend was more challenging as he was involved in a big rollover crash on Saturday, which forced the team to work all night to repair the No. 12 Shell V-Power Ford for Sunday’s race. Coulthard repaid their efforts with a strong drive into the top five.

The final round of the 2017 Supercars championship was held on a brand-new circuit, in a city the sport had never visited before – Newcastle, located about three hours north of Sydney. The 2.6 km (1.62 mile) street circuit wound its way around the city’s east end with a view of the spectacular coastline, and it hosted the deciding races of the championship. Both DJR Team Penske pilots entered the weekend with a shot at the driver title as McLaughlin ranked second and Coulthard third in points when they arrived in Newcastle.

McLaughlin was back in fine qualifying form as he topped qualifying for both races for his 15th and 16th poles of 2017 – a new series season record, surpassing Jamie Whincup’s 13 poles in 2013. Saturday was a very strong day, with a 1-2 finish in the very first race around Newcastle – 250 km (155 miles) or 95 laps, that clinched the Team Championship for DJRTP. McLaughlin started from the pole position, and took an emphatic victory with Coulthard right alongside him for the team’s fourth 1-2 result of the season.

After an incredible day on Saturday that brought the team title, Sunday’s results were difficult for the Shell V-Power Racing team. Coulthard qualified eighth and ran strong inside the top 10 before a transaxle failure put him out of the race, and left him watching as a spectator of the remainder of the afternoon.

McLaughlin also had a strong start and led the first section of the race. Unfortunately, a series of penalties issued to him throughout the race dropped him back to 18th as Whincup clinched the driver’s title.

McLaughlin finished second and Coulthard third in the driver point standings while the team title will give DJR Team Penske the all-important number one garage in pit lane throughout the 2018 season. It will mark the first time in eight seasons that a team other than the Triple Eight squad will have the top pit lane position.

At the end of an incredible 2017 season, DJR Team Penske produced an overall 15 race victories, 20 pole positions and 31 podium finishes while earning Team Penske’s 32nd championship. The results surpassed all expectations for the season while raising hopes and dreams for an even more successful run entering 2018.