McLaughlin takes points lead after win in Townsville
SCOTT McLaughlin has become the man to catch in the Supercars drivers championship after a dominant opening race win in the Townsville 400 that saw teammate Fabian Coulthard spun out of the race and down the leaderboard.
McLaughlin held off Jamie Whincup to post his second consecutive win in his DKR Team Penske Ford, and his fifth win of the year.
Mark Winterbottom came in third on the Reid Park street circuit.
The 150 points for McLaughlin's win was enough to take him to the top of drivers' championship for the first time in his career after a bingle on the second corner ruined the race for previous leader Fabian Coulthard.
Paying the price for a poor qualifying session that saw him start the race in ninth, Coulthard was nudged in the helter-skelter mid-pack traffic, with several cars banged up and with doors flying open.
Coulthard went all the way down to second-last before finishing in 11th, and slipping down to third in the drivers' championship.
Starting in pole position, McLaughlin's only trouble was a determined Whincup still chasing his first win of the season.
The Red Bull Holden star stole the lead with a better start but McLaughlin grabbed it back on the last turn of his third lap.
Whincup's team bosses tried a different fuel strategy but even that wasn't enough to get ahead of the flawless Kiwi and the speed of his Shell V-Power Ford.
McLaughlin pulled away to finish four seconds ahead of Whincup.
It was the 13th win for the 24-year-old McLaughlin and at the halfway point of the 2017 Supercars championship series, gives him a superb launching pad to secure his first ever drivers' championship.
It also continued the utter dominance of DJR Team Penske, which has won eight of the 13 races so far this year.
"It was fantastic, thanks to the guys at Shell V-Power Racing, they gave me a fantastic car," McLaughlin said.
"I had an awesome battle there with Jamie at the start, he had a jump leading into turn one and we had a little bump but we got away with it.
"We had some fun out there, it was awesome."
The move to the top of the leaderboard was welcome news to McLaughlin but he said his goal was to back up for up for another 70-lap win on Sunday.
"That's cool, it was our goal to come and get a couple of podiums and just stay in the fight," he said.
"We are well and truly doing that, so we will see how we go tomorrow."
Whincup moved into second on the drivers' leaderboard with his sixth second place of the year. No driver has ever a won a championship without a race win. Todd Kelly won in 2006 without winning a round, but he snared one win.
There were no excuses from the Red Bull driver about his failure to haul in McLaughlin in Townsville.
"I enjoy this place. We pushed on at the start but congrats to Scotty. He was too quick today. I couldn't make a race of it," Whincup said.
"We will put in the best we can to make a better show of it tomorrow."
McLaughlin leads the drivers championship on 1470, with Whincup in second on 1452 and Coulthard on 1402.
There are another 150 points on offer in Sunday's race.