‘Defies belief’: Bathurst winners hit hard
SCOTT McLaughlin and Alex Premat have avoided being stripped of their Bathurst 1000 victory but DJR Team Penske has been hit hard after race officials handed down their verdict on the go-slow tactics that created controversy at Mt Panorama.
Fabian Coulthard found himself in the middle of a media storm after he held up the field during a safety car lap late in the race and appeared to allow McLaughlin and Premat to gain an advantage.
The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport launched an investigation and today announced it was relegating Coulthard from sixth to 21st in the race while handing his team a $250,000 fine and stripping it of 300 points.
Stewards concluded the team had breached fairness regulations but did not find the tactics - which were described as "disgraceful" by motorsport legend Larry Perkins - were deliberately intended to benefit the McLaughlin-Premat car.
ENGINEER ACCUSED OF 'SPEAKING TO A SCRIPT'
A radio conversation between a DJR Team Penske engineer and Coulthard was the key piece of evidence. Stewards accused the engineer of reading from a "script" when he told the driver to slow down because there was debris on the track.
They also formed the view the engineer was acting on the direction of a "more senior representative of the team".
The safety car had been introduced after Alexander Rossi veered off the track at turn 23. There was never any debris on the track.
"A peculiar feature of this matter is that in the team radio communication from the engineer to the driver, the engineer mispronounced 'debris' as 'debriss'," stewards found.
"The degree of emphasis and unwarranted repetition in the engineer's language, coupled with the mispronunciation of the word 'debris', and the fact that the assertions made to the driver were a contrivance, has led us to conclude that the engineer was speaking to a script."
A later explanation in which Coulthard said he had slowed because his engine was overheating was also rubbished because, stewards said, the engineer didn't mention it any point in his communication with the driver.
"We are prepared to assume that there was no intention to advantage car #17 (McLaughlin's car), however, it defies belief that the engineer of Car #12 (Coulthard's) just happened to have formed a mistaken belief that there was debris at some unknown location on the circuit and that just fortuitously resulted in the very problem anticipated with Car #12 being resolved," the stewards statement read.
"We find, and it has been admitted, that in giving the direction to the Driver of Car #12, DJRTP infringed the principles of fairness in competition and behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner.
"We do not find that there was an attempt to influence the result of the race but it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the result was affected to a degree, certainly for Car #12 that would otherwise have rejoined the circuit after its pit stop in a much lower position."
DJR Team Penske released a statement saying it accepted the penalties but would make no further comment.
SYMPATHY FOR DRIVER, BUT ALSO CRITICISM
Coulthard had borne the brunt of race fans outrage over the controversy. He described feeling like a "scapegoat" and also received death threats by social media trolls, McLaughlin said.
Stewards said they had "some sympathy for (Coulthard) to a point" but didn't buy all of his excuses.
"We accept that because he was told that there was debris on the circuit, it was not unreasonable for him to have slowed initially, particularly over the mountain where a number of turns are blind," the findings read.
"However, the stewards showed the driver of car #12 footage captured by the judicial camera from his car which showed him driving extraordinarily slowly out of Turn 18 and all the way down Conrod Straight where a driver has a line of sight for hundreds of metres. The driver of Car #12 acknowledged that he had a clear line of sight at least from that point and that there was no debris to be seen.
"He was asked whether it had occurred to him that he should not continue to drive so slowly given that he had the majority of the field banked up behind him. He said that he was aware that there were multiple cars in procession behind him and said that he understood that he was holding those cars up.
"He was asked why he continued to do so notwithstanding that there was nothing in his line of sight to justify him to continue to drive so slowly. He said that he was focussing on his race and complying with the direction of the team."