McLaughlin was beaten off the line by teammate Fabian Coulthard at the start of the 32-lapper, the pole-sitter even needing to defend into Turn 1 to keep Whincup at bay.
However, once the early challenge from Whincup was contained, the two Penske Fords executed an inevitable switch, Coulthard rolling out of the throttle on Lap 7 to gift the lead to McLaughlin.
From there it looked like a cakewalk for the points leader, who took his mandatory service on Lap 12 and faced an easy run home with Coulthard in the rear gunner role.
That was until Lap 22, when both Coulthard and David Reynolds rolled to a stop with their own driveline problems, not only costing McLaughlin the protection of his teammate, but also his margin thanks to the deployment of the safety car.
The six-lap dash home proved simple enough, however, McLaughlin comfortably able to hold off Anton De Pasquale and Cam Waters to take a 56th career victory, which moves him clear into fourth on the all-time winners list.
Even better for McLaughlin was that Whincup slumped to seventh in the race thanks to a pitstop issue, which means he only needs to outscore the T8 driver by one point in this afternoon’s finale to seal the title with a round to go.
“It’s a bummer about Fabs, we were on for a one-two there,” said McLaughlin.
“Huge team game by…