Whincup back on top in NZ

| Photographer Credit: Mark Horsburgh

Six-time Champion Jamie Whincup returned to his winning ways this weekend at the ITM 500 Auckland, taking out the coveted Jason Richards Memorial Trophy.

While he might be out of contention for this year’s Championship, Whincup showed he is still a force to be reckoned with after a commanding victory in today’s 200km feature race at Pukekohe Park Raceway.

“It was a great day,” beamed Whincup.

“Yesterday was the best day I’ve ever had in New Zealand, and I topped it today.”

Whincup is now the third man to win the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, named after the late Kiwi driver who succumbed to cancer in 2011.

Whincup admitted to being emotional after the win, as he and ‘JR’ were teammates at now defunct Tasman Motorsport in 2005.

“For me, it’s all about the JR Trophy. We were teammates, we were good mates, first podium, first Bathurst podium,” Whincup said.

Three Kiwis finished in the top-10 although none troubled the podium, after pole-setter Scott McLaughlin lost out in the pit strategies and had to be content with sixth.

Fabian Coulthard looked fast but his chances were dented when he got stuck behind a doubled stacked Holden Racing Team, eventually finishing seventh.

Shane van Gisbergen was also caught in the double-stack in his team but finished strongly for ninth while Andrew Heimgartner managed 21st.

Van Gisbergen has the mantle of leading Kiwi in fifth in the championship with Coulthard just 17 points adrift in sixth while McLaughlin moves into the top-10 for the first time, and Heimgartner is 23rd.

Second place man Lowndes was lucky just to be on the track after his rear tyre exploded yesterday sending his car crashing into the pit straight wall.

His car was taken to a local smash repair shop before returning to the track where his team worked through the night to repair it.

“This second place is all about the team,” Lowndes said.

“They did an all-nighter and it’s rare to get a car that’s stripped apart then runs faultlessly.

“My number one (mechanic) said he fell asleep in the shower!”

DJR Team Penske driver Scott Pye finished third, taking his first career podium, and the first for the team, in the process.

Making it even sweeter for Pye was that he did it in front of team boss Roger Penske.

“There’s a big part of me that is saying that it was great that he (Penske) was here to see that,” said an ecstatic Pye.

“He was extremely happy. He had a big smile on (his face).

“To get the champagne, I hope the boys really appreciate that, because when we reflect on where we have come from this year, it is a big turnaround.

“I am excited about the future and looking forward to seeing what we can do next year.”

Drama hit Championship leader Mark Winterbottom, who spun on lap two and re-joined at the back of the field.

Winterbottom carved through the field and managed to come home 11th.

He continues to lead the Championship, now by 239 to Reynolds with Lowndes one point behind him in third place.

V8 Supercars now head to the WD-40 Phillip Island 400 on November 20-22.

“I haven’t won much this year, but it’s a good year knowing the JR Trophy is in the cabinet.”

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