A three-stop strategy has paid off for Shane van Gisbergen in the Beaurepaires Sydney SuperNight opener.
The reigning champion led the bulk of the 300km race, but was out of sequence to his rivals for much of the 77-lapper.
It was the 55th win of van Gisbergen’s career, bringing him within one of Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander.
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The victory also came on van Gisbergen’s 450th career race start, some 15 years after his debut.
It was also a first victory for van Gisbergen with new engineer Andrew Edwards.
Anton De Pasquale and Chaz Mostert filled the podium, the latter stealing third from Will Brown in the closing laps.
“It’s a team win, I had no idea what was happening in the middle of the race,” van Gisbergen said.
“Awesome job by the team, and pretty lucky the weather held out.
“It’s a great way to start, but it’s a long year ahead.”
De Pasquale won the start and led van Gisbergen, who was being pressured by Brown.
By lap 3, De Pasquale had eked his lead to 1.1s; all the while, Andre Heimgartner ranged onto the back of the squabbling Brown and van Gisbergen.
Heimgartner was one of four drivers to start the race on Super Soft tyres, but the only starter in the top eight.
By lap 4, Heimgartner was past both, the New Zealander clearing van Gisbergen at Turn 7.
From there, Heimgartner began to eat into De Pasquale’s margin, and took the lead at Turn 6 on lap 8.
Heimgartner used his Super Softs to build a five-second lead by lap 19.
Red Bull Ampol Racing short-fuelled van Gisbergen on the following lap. Brown pitted in response, and took on Super Softs.
De Pasquale followed Heimgartner in at the end of lap 24; De Pasquale took on Super Softs, and Heimgartner Softs.
As the field cycled through the first stops, van Gisbergen led from Broc Feeney, Brown, David Reynolds, Jack Le Brocq, Heimgartner and De Pasquale.
Van Gisbergen’s lead was 6.8s by lap 28, with Heimgartner and De Pasquale quickly disposing of Le Brocq.
Feeney dropped from second to sixth within two laps, with the charging De Pasquale hurrying along Heimgartner.
De Pasquale reached second-placed Brown, but their battling enabled van Gisbergen to hold his 8.8s lead.
Van Gisbergen’s lead blew out to 11.3s on lap 41 as De Pasquale continued to fight with Brown.
Just as the two made minor contact at the back of the circuit on lap 41, drivers were notified that the race had been declared wet.
De Pasquale made his way past Brown at Turn 6 on lap 42 and eased away; at the end of the lap, van Gisbergen stopped for fuel and Super Softs.
Two laps later, Brown stopped and returned to the Soft tyre. On lap 49, Heimgartner and Davison stopped.
It released van Gisbergen into second, albeit 22 seconds behind De Pasquale. However, the Kiwi had already taken 10 seconds out of the margin.
The margin was 13 seconds once De Pasquale stopped on lap 52, handing the lead back to van Gisbergen.
With his fuel window closing, van Gisbergen pushed hard to create a gap. With 18 laps to go, the margin to Brown behind was 38 seconds.
De Pasquale, with eight-lap fresher tyres than Brown, was 7.3s behind the #9 Boost Mobile Commodore. With 15 laps to go, the margin was 4.5s.
Van Gisbergen finally stopped for fresh Soft tyres and fuel on lap 63, and emerged 9.2s behind new leader Brown.
De Pasquale caught Brown as van Gisbergen set a personal best lap time.
On lap 67, De Pasquale cleared Brown for the lead at Turn 5, with van Gisbergen moving into second two corners later.
Down the pit straight, van Gisbergen sauntered past De Pasquale and took the lead, and immediately pushed away.
Mostert took third from an ailing Brown on lap 72, who was demoted to fifth by Davison on lap 74.
Van Gisbergen crossed the line nearly 20 seconds to the good, with Mostert a further 10 seconds behind De Pasquale.
Brown was pushed to seventh by the flag, with teammate Brodie Kostecki and Nick Percat fifth and sixth.
Tim Slade, Feeney and James Courtney rounded out the top 10.
The only casualty was Scott Pye, who suffered a power steering issue. Reynolds dropped out of contention with gearbox issues.
Cars will return to the track for ARMOR ALL Qualifying on Sunday at 10:50am AEDT.