The 2023 Supercars championship has gone down to the wire, with the stage set for a title decider at the Adelaide 500 this weekend a throwback to Formula One finales of yesteryear on the streets of the parklands.
Erebus Motorsport’s Brodie Kostecki has led the championship for the majority of the year, with three-time Supercars championship and NASCAR bound in 2024 Shane van Gisbergen within 131 points of a fourth crown.
The equation for Kostecki is simple, outscore van Gisbergen by 20 points on Saturday’s opening 250km stanza and a maiden Supercars championship is his. Even if the Kiwi wins both races, the 26-year-old Coca-Cola Camaro racer only needs a pair of eighths to clinch the title.
The stage for this latest title showdown is the iconic Adelaide Parklands Circuit. A gruelling 3.2km of unforgiving streets and concrete walls, steeped in motorsport folklore with Formula One classics such as the 1986 Australian Grand Prix seeing that spectacular tyre failure for Nigel Mansell hand the title to Alain Prost.
As well as the controversial 1994 Australian Grand Prix, where title rivals Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill collided, sending the Briton airborne and famously benefitting the eventual seven-time world champion.
Adelaide is spectacular and the perfect setting in this respect for a showdown between two drivers, who are a pair of the most unrelenting seen in the sport. As a testament to the Perth SuperSprint earlier in the year, where both Kostecki and van Gisbergen put on a show with their hard racing.
Numbers-wise, it has been a year of emergence for Erebus Motorsport as a bonafide title contender. The Victorian-based, Betty Klimenko squad has toiled in the premier touring car category for a decade to get to this point and with the introduction of the Gen3 regulations and the Chevrolet Camaro – they have played their cards right.
Initially, it was thought that it would be a battle between the Erebus teammates for the championship, however, a nightmare of a Bend SuperSprint and then a podium-less Enduro campaign for Will Brown saw the Queenslander written out of the championship narrative.
As was the case for Triple Eight’s sophomore young gun in Broc Feeney, whose title hopes streamed away amongst the tears of a heartbreaking end to the Bathurst 1000, where a faulty gear linkage robbed the 21-year old of a maiden Peter Brock Trophy – following victory at the Sandown 500.
However, van Gisbergen somehow has stitched together enough of a consistent season to have reached this point. It has been well documented, the Kiwi’s disdain with the Gen3 regulations and bemoaning of his own Red Bull Ampol Racing hardware – which has lacked the balance that the three-time Bathurst 1000 champion desires.
Given the reliability and consistent pace in all conditions demonstrated by the Coca-Cola Camaros, it seemed a tall order for van Gisbergen and Red Bull to crawl up from a disqualification in Race 1 back in Newcastle, as well as a retirement at Symmons Plains to be in title contention.
Six wins for Kostecki plays van Gisbergen’s five – which includes that emphatic Bathurst 1000 victory with Richie Stanaway. It is emphatic, in that it was a statement from the Kiwi that his crown will not be taken easily, despite all the criticism he has taken this year before leaving for NASCAR in 2024.
2022 proved a difficult return to the Adelaide 500 for multiple winner van Gisbergen, though he had already wrapped up his third championship by the time they arrived at the South Australian finale. Kostecki by contrast is also yet to record a podium at this venue.
The team’s championship is also up for grabs between Erebus and Triple Eight, with 170 points the difference between the two outfits. It would be a meaningful result to either team, but for Erebus to come from where they have to a maiden team’s championship would be a testament to the resilience of that operation.
Whoever wins, it will have been a great contest between two teams that must be praised for their efforts with the new regulations.
It is easy to be swept up in the unfortunate parity rhetoric and regardless of this column’s feelings toward that – credit is due where it is due.