Supercars Taupō Super400 talking points: Reigning champ returns, De Pasquale wins Jason Richards Trophy and teammates square off again


New Zealand made a triumphant return to the Supercars championship calendar since the demise of the much-loved Pukekohe Park Raceway – as Taupō delivered for the Australian touring car series.

From the return of Brodie Kostecki, to the awarding of the Jason Richards Trophy and another cracking battle between the Red Bull teammates; here are the talking points from the Taupō Super400.

Heimgartner the first Taupō winner

Auckland-born Andre Heimgartner championed the challenging conditions of the curtain-raising Race 7 to take his first win since The Bend in 2021 – as well as Brad Jones Racing’s first since 2020.

Racing with the famous No.8, which the late Jason Richards also raced with for the Albury squad, Heimgartner toughed through the chaos to beat Shell V-Power Racing duo Will Davison and Anton De Pasquale.

Heimgartner, along with Chaz Mostert – with whom the Kiwi battled throughout the race for the lead, both capitalised on the opening lap with pole-sitter Cameron Waters falling afoul of contact with Tim Slade at the start.

After the Safety Car intervened, the 29-year-old held off a charge from Will Brown before Mostert began his pursuit. The pair were running in formation up until the final pit-stops on Lap 40, when two laps later the Mobil 1 Optus Mustang pilot’s race came undone.

The right-rear wheel came loose with heads in hands in the Walkinshaw Andretti United garage, and a likely podium for Mostert rolling away like his Dunlop tyre. In consolation, the day was also fraught for championship rivals such as Broc Feeney – who was classified in 21st just ahead of the two-time Bathurst winner.

Mostert’s pain though, was his rookie teammate’s gain as Kiwi Ryan Wood snared his best result of the season in fourth. Just two seconds off the podium as well, the Super2 graduate starred in wet conditions – having out-qualified Mostert in the Top Ten Shootout and then secured a top-four result.

De Pasquale wins the Jason Richards Trophy

Your Jason Richards Memorial Trophy winner, Anton De Pasquale ????#RepcoSC #Supercars

— Supercars (@supercars) April 21, 2024

Anton De Pasquale denied local favourite Heimgartner to the overall round win, with a pair of third-place finishes seeing the 28-year-old take the prestigious Jason Richards Memorial Trophy.

Coming into the Taupō Super400 weekend as well, the Shell V-Power Racing Team were a lowly ninth in the team’s championship. However, a podium for teammate Davison in Race 7 and the double for De Pasquale has seen the former champions catapult to fourth.

The Jason Richards Trophy was last won by the Shell V-Power outfit in 2018, when it was the three-time Supercars champion in Scott McLaughlin who claimed it at Pukekohe – en route to his first title.

De Pasquale had the upper hand of his fellow Ford driver in polesitter Matt Payne, who fell away from leading the race on Lap 11. The Shell V-Power Mustang dispatched the Penrite Mustang into Turn 1 on Lap 15, before eventual race winner Will Brown got past on the following lap.

With third secured for De Pasquale through the 60-lapper, it was a defiant charge from Heimgartner in the final laps to overturn the points deficit needed to secure the trophy. In the end, 1.6 seconds separated the Kiwi from James Golding in fifth.

Teammates and title rivals square off again

The narrative of the championship thus far in 2024 has been the battle between the new Red Bull Ampol Racing teammates in Feeney and Brown, with that rivalry continuing into Race 8 in New Zealand.

A mega drive from Will Brown! He wins Race 8 in Taupō!#RepcoSC #Supercars

— Supercars (@supercars) April 21, 2024

Brown claimed his third win of the season, equalling the season total of Feeney, and extended his lead in the championship to 71 points over his teammate. Red Bull meanwhile maintained their sizable lead in the team’s standings with 501 points over Penrite Racing.

The front row was shared by Payne and Feeney, with the Red Bull Camaro taking the lead from the polesitter on Lap 11. It was on Lap 16, that Brown – who started in fifth – had Payne yield his position.

As expected, the race descended into a strategic game of chess given there was no minimal fuel drop required for this event, putting greater emphasis on tyres. With the final stops done, Brown had the lead to his teammate down below a second on Lap 46.

The pair ran in tandem, with some minor contact when Brown tapped the rear of Feeney’s Red Bull Camaro on Lap 49. The lead was contested up until Lap 52, when Feeney went wide at Turn 5 and allowed the No.87 car through.

With the pace that Brown had in hand, from a lap-younger set of tyres, he put 3.3 seconds on Feeney by the time the chequered flag fell.

Kostecki returns

Brodie Kostecki. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

One of the biggest talking points coming into the Taupō weekend was the impending return of the reigning Supercars champion, with Brodie Kostecki having announced his comeback with Erebus Motorsport for the NZ round.

26-year-old Kostecki was at the centre of headlines in the Supercars pre-season, with the 2023 champion sitting out the first two rounds of the current campaign. Amongst that, there was speculation regarding a falling out between Kostecki and team management, with key sponsors such as Coca-Coca withdrawing from Erebus.

Todd Hazelwood had deputised for Kostecki at Bathurst and in Melbourne, though the West Aussie rolled out in Taupō with the No.1 on his TFH-Hire Camaro with the milestone of reaching 100 race starts achieved in Race 7.

“We’ll just take it round-by-round and try to get as many trophies as we can,” said Kostecki in a TV interview ahead of his return, eluding toward key races such as the Sandown 500 and Bathurst 1000 as goals.

Race 7 was a scrappy affair for the reigning champion, coming home in 14th during the rain-affected race. While earning a spot in the Top Ten Shootout for Race 8, Kostecki was hit with a 5-second time penalty for making contact with Richie Stanaway late in the piece. The result was 12th.

Kia ora New Zealand

It felt a travesty at the end of the 2022 Supercars season, with the realisation that the touring car series would not be travelling to New Zealand the following year – given the demise of the incumbent Pukekohe Park Raceway.

New Zealand has always been such a key market for the Australian series, as demonstrated by the 67,411-strong crowd over the weekend and given that for 2024 there are five Kiwi drivers on the grid, it would be tragic to not have a presence there.

Broc Feeney. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The Taupō circuit is owned by Tony Quinn; a figure well-known amongst Australian motorsport, with the Scotsman an owner as well of the Hampton Downs circuit and breathtaking Highlands Motorsport Park in New Zealand too.

Since 2018, five of the six championships have been won by either Scott McLaughlin or Shane van Gisbergen. Both also ironically are no longer in Supercars, pursuing other challenges in the United States.

With all the noise made by Supercars’ current owners in having a desire to become a Formula One undercard at events such as Singapore and in the Middle East, it is tone-deaf such a venture is being pursued at the expense of local events in the local market.

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As mentioned, New Zealand has two other premier circuits to offer and the thought of Highlands with its stunning mountainous backdrop in the Otago region – as well as Australian tracks such as the Quinn-owned Queensland Raceway, Winton and Phillip Island – not being broadcast to the Supercars world feels like a waste. Why not focus on those before going beyond these shores?

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