Scott McLaughlin has surged to the lead of the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship with victory in Race 13 at the Watpac Townsville 400.
McLaughlin led home Red Bull’s Jamie Whincup and the Prodrive Ford of Mark Winterbottom on a day of damage limitation for Fabian Coulthard.
Starting ninth, Coulthard’s hopes of defending his 10 point championship advantage took a major dive on the opening lap.
Tagged into a spin by Tim Slade at Turn 2, Coulthard’s Shell Ford was subsequently struck by Todd Kelly’s Nissan and Jason Bright’s Ford.
Coulthard managed to escape with only cosmetic damage and at the end of a 70 lap contest devoid of Safety Cars eventually finished 11th.
McLaughlin now holds an 18 point lead over Whincup in the championship with Coulthard a further 50 back in third.
A dramatic start to the race had seen Jamie Whincup take the lead from pole-sitter McLaughlin, but it took less than two laps for the Ford to come storming back by.
Winterbottom sliced through from sixth to third off the start, putting him ahead of Prodrive team-mates Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters and Red Bull’s Shane van Gisbergen.
Losing 2.5s to McLaughlin across the opening 20 laps, Whincup took on more fuel than his nearest rivals in the first stops and dropped behind Winterbottom and Mostert as a result.
Whincup overtook both Falcons in the middle stint but, by the time he cleared Winterbottom, McLaughlin was over five seconds ahead and well in control.
McLaughlin eased the gap out to seven seconds before the top two stopped together on lap 43.
While Whincup had less fuel to take on, a combination of having to drive around Craig Lowndes entering his pit box and a set-up tweak left the gap stable.
From there it was a matter of managing the gap to the end for McLaughlin to score win number four for the season.
“I had an awesome battle with Jamie at the start," beamed McLaughlin post-race.
"I had a little bit of a jump there into turn 1 and got away. But man we had some fun out there, it was awesome.
"Our goal was to come here and get a couple of podiums and stay in the fight and we’re well and truly doing that."
Third for Winterbottom proved a remarkable turnaround from Prodrive’s struggle last time out in Darwin.
Mostert lost fourth to Van Gisbergen in the second round of stops but retook the place 10 laps from home as the Kiwi slowed with a cracked header on his engine.
The reigning champion also lost places to Waters and Craig Lowndes on the way to the chequered flag, which he took narrowly ahead of Garth Tander.
David Reynolds was the big loser in the closing laps – allowing Lowndes through as he redressed a bump-pass on van Gisbergen.
Tander then took the Erebus Holden on the final lap, adding to a solid day for Garry Rogers Motorsport that saw James Moffat 10th.
Opening lap damage ruined the days of Todd Kelly, Bright, James Courtney and Tim Slade, while Nick Percat was also down the order after a mid-race hit with the Turn 11 exit wall.