THERE was far more to the 2021 Repco Supercars Championship than just a dominant performance from Triple Eight spearhead Shane van Gisbergen.
Despite the best efforts of COVID-19 that again wreaked havoc with the schedule and forced an extended break, the year provided plenty of fascinating storylines and standout performances.
Young stars stepped up, a seven-time champion bowed out and a reinvented powerhouse struck big at Bathurst.
This subjective top 10 list aims to rank driver performance through the season, taking into account the equipment and opportunities each had at their disposal, digging deeper than the final points standings.
10) Tim Slade
Team: Blanchard Racing Team
Returning to full-time Supercars duties with the new Blanchard Racing Team after a year on the sidelines, Slade stunned by putting his ex-Tickford Mustang on the front-row for the Bathurst season-opener.
A heavy crash while running fourth in that race put the CoolDrive Mustang out of the weekend and forced Slade into a spare car for the next six rounds, which marked a significant setback for the fledgling squad.
Slade though ultimately proved the season’s quiet achiever, with 14 top 10 finishers and three top fives, for a best of fourth in Townsville. If not for the February crash, he’d have finished top 10 in the championship.
9) Nick Percat
Team: Brad Jones Racing
It was another year of making the most of what he had at Brad Jones Racing for Nick Percat, who matched his career-best championship result of seventh from 2020, albeit this time without a victory.
His talent was best on display during the rain-hit Top 10 Shootout on Sunday at the fourth Sydney Motorsport Park event, scoring pole for a race that ultimately did not run, much to his frustration.
Percat was again the clear leader among the four-car BJR crew and impressively maintained his high-level performances even after deciding to split from the team for 2022, but would ultimately have hoped for more from his campaign.
8) Will Davison
Team: Dick Johnson Racing
A ranking of eighth may seem harsh for a man who finished fourth in the championship with 10 podium finishes from 30 races, but it was a solid rather than outstanding campaign for experienced hand Davison in a year where rising stars shone.
The highlight was back-to-back poles at Hidden Valley, but Davison repeatedly came up short in his quest to break his five-year win drought and ultimately turned in the first winless season for a DJR driver since 2016.
Davison ended up as the top DJR driver in points through impressive consistency and nearly nabbed a win in Sydney, but teammate Anton De Pasquale well and truly had the ascendancy within the team after the season recommenced.
7) Brodie Kostecki
Team: Erebus Motorsport
Three podium finishes and ninth in the championship was a strong yield from Kostecki’s rookie season, which had been much anticipated following his forceful performance as a co-driver in the 2020 Bathurst 1000.
Kostecki again made the highlights reel at Bathurst this year, landing multiple high-risk passes across the top of the Mountain on the way to a sensational third-place finish alongside co-driver David Russell.
A Shootout appearance at the Bathurst season opener and a second in Race 5 at Sandown grabbed early attention, but he was outshone by teammate Will Brown for much of the year – including when the Erebus cars were at their best in Sydney.
6) Jamie Whincup
Team: Triple Eight Race Engineering
Second in points during his final full-time campaign marked a sign of Whincup’s class, and his defiance of team orders in Sydney late in the season showed he remained desperate for victories.
But he’s ranked sixth here largely due to the deficit to teammate van Gisbergen, whose 14 wins dwarfed Whincup’s two in a year where the largely dominant Triple Eight team had a clear lead driver.
Impressively though, Whincup remained highly competitive against van Gisbergen in qualifying, only losing the head-to-head 17 to 14, and 15 podium finishes proved he’d not fallen far from his peak amid the distractions of a transition to team management.
5) Will Brown
Team: Erebus Motorsport
Brown’s place on this list reflects his status as the ‘find’ of the season, having largely outgunned fellow rookie teammate Kostecki in what was a great year for the refreshed Erebus squad.
There were flashes of Brown brilliance with top five finishes at Symmons Plains in April, Hidden Valley in June and Townsville in July, before he really made his mark during the four-event Sydney swing.
That netted a first win and a maiden pole position, before a provisional pole effort in Friday qualifying on the big stage at Bathurst underlined his status as the one of the category’s new stars.
4) Cameron Waters
Team: Tickford Racing
Waters entered the year being touted as a major title threat following a strong end to 2020.
The Monster-backed driver ultimately fell a fair way short of that expectation, but he was again comfortably the class of the Tickford runners and turned in plenty of standout performances.
Waters scored four poles and three race wins, which included epic drives to hold off van Gisbergen at The Bend and Townsville aboard a Tickford package that often lacked the race pace of its key rivals.
A power steering problem in the Bathurst season opener (for which he’d scored pole) and being taken out in an incident at The Bend hurt his points chase, but still he sat third before Tickford’s costly Sydney slump – and then drove brilliantly at the Bathurst finale.
3) Chaz Mostert
Team: Walkinshaw Andretti United
Much of Mostert’s second season at Walkinshaw Andretti United was hard to rank as the team continued to develop its package.
The only truly consistent element was Mostert’s dominance over second-year teammate Bryce Fullwood in all key metrics, including 27-4 in the qualifying head-to-head.
There was a breakthrough win for the Mostert/WAU combination at Symmons Plains in April and another at Hidden Valley in June, but also significant and frustrating form swings, turning in two very different performances in two weeks in Townsville.
Mostert shone in the wet amid more ‘snakes and ladders’ outings across the four Sydney events, before it all clicked at Bathurst with a sensational pole and win that lifted him to third in the standings.
2) Anton De Pasquale
Team: Dick Johnson Racing
Sixth in the championship belied what was an impressive first year at Dick Johnson Racing for De Pasquale that netted six race wins, 13 podiums and a category-leading 11 pole positions.
Five DNFs and a DSQ cost him dearly in the standings. Just two of those were De Pasquale’s fault amid uncharacteristic unreliability from the team that had powered Scott McLaughlin to three straight titles.
If there was one criticism of De Pasquale it was race craft, most notably outfoxed by van Gisbergen on the run to Turn 1 in Darwin’s opener, squandering pole.
Still, the pace was there and the way De Pasquale’s campaign built points to a big 2022 ahead.
1) Shane van Gisbergen
Team: Triple Eight
What more can be said about van Gisbergen’s 2021 season?
Six wins to start the year made him an almost unbackable title favourite by April and he ended up securing it with a round to spare.
He was not the standout qualifier, but his tyre management and hand-to-hand combat were a class above. The only shame was that McLaughlin was not there to take him on.
The highlight of SVG’s sublime season was undoubtedly the Sandown opener, where he blazed from 17th on the grid to victory while nursing a broken collarbone and cracked ribs injured in a recent dirt bike accident.