The Champ is back. Jamie Whincup, the greatest driver in V8 Supercars’ history, has returned to hound Mark Winterbottom and potentially repeat one of the greatest comebacks in the sport.
Whincup last won a race in early March in Tasmania. It is the longest drought of his career since his run of six Championship titles began. It has been a source of constant frustration from someone who is rarely outside of the top five.
It may not have been his greatest victory but it was a telling one when he held out Fabian Coulthard and first race winner Chaz Mostert at the Sydney Motorsport Park SuperSprint. It followed a third place in the first of the sprint races.
He had to earn the win by holding out a rampant Coulthard in the Freightliner Commodore who put Whincup under enormous pressure from the start of the short sprint race. First race winner Chaz Mostert got jumped from the start, settling for third.
It marked a return to form for the Kiwi drivers who have been on the back foot in recent times.
Andre Heimgartner (Super Black Racing) led the way to convert a strong qualifying effort with a strong seventh, one spot ahead of Scott McLaughlin, with Coulthard 11th and Shane van Gisbergen struggling on the hard tyres.
The second race was a triumph for the New Zealanders, with Coulthard second, McLaughlin fourth, van Gisbergen finding life from the soft tyres and Heimgartner 13th.
It means Coulthard has moved back to fifth in the championship, van Gisbergen ninth, McLaughlin continues his move up to 11th and Heimgartner now up to 20th.
“The points are the points but you’re not having any fun running around mid-pack or at the back. It’s about getting the enjoyment back into motorsport for me, so a fast car is generally a lot more fun,” Whincup said.
“The last few months haven’t been so enjoyable, Running 15th, it’s alright if you’re always running there but when you’ve had some success for many years it’s tough to move back. At the end of the day life’s good but life’s a little bit better when the car’s fast.”
Whincup didn’t allude to the battle in front of him but would be well aware that the Pirtek Enduro Cup is next in line across the big points races of the Wilson Security Sandown 500, Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 and the Castrol Gold Coast 600.
That was where Whincup made his biggest gains last year when he came from some 200 points behind to win his record sixth Championship by a staggering 583 points.
“It was one of those days where we were just trying to get to the end to be honest, we were a little bit wounded with a broken pipe, it sounded a bit like a Massey Ferguson (tractor),” he said.
“The aim of the game of the game is to be the quickest car out there, we’ve certainly done a lot of improving over the last few months.
“We knew we weren’t the quickest car there so we’ll keep our head down. It’s encouraging getting the extra pace out of the car. There’s still a long way to go but certainly enjoyed the challenge.”
Mostert moved into second place behind leader Winterbottom in overtaking Craig Lowndes – fifth and tenth today – on the Championship ladder.
Pouncing from ARMOR ALL Pole Position and duelling teammate Mark Winterbottom into turn one, the 23-year old Pepsi Max driver took control of the 16-lap race early and didn’t falter.
“At the end of the day I’m racing the same car he (Winterbottom) is and if I’m strong he’s going to be strong. We’ve got a lot of hard work to do, we need to finish this weekend strong, go into the enduros and then there are a lot of other factors involved,” Mostert said.
“It’s awesome to get up and be second for the team. To be first and second in the Championship is awesome but there’s a long way to go. These guys are starting to come on strong. Obviously we have a bit of work to do on the soft tyre and if we can get that going along we will be set for a good finish towards the end of the year.”
He finished the race with a 1.62sec lead over Winterbottom, with Red Bull’s Jamie Whincup tucked in third in his first podium since Perth.
Save of the day went to Jason Bright, who was wildly crossed up at turn eight after an incident involving Rick Kelly and Garth Tander. Incredibly he kept control of his Team BOC Commodore, not allowing it back on the road and into oncoming traffic.
But he later suffered a blown front right tyre that saw him fly into turn one and pull up the car at the tyre barriers. Mostert comfortably took the first race on the way to overtaking Lowndes on the points table.
The V8 Supercars will qualify and race for 200km tomorrow around Sydney Motorsport Park, hitting the track at 11.45am for qualifying.