A chat with the seven-time Supercars champ about starting from ground zero, taking a mental break and THAT wild finale to last year’s title chase.
Jamie Whincup has won Supercars championships every which way, but when he took the chequered flag to win the final race of 2017 in Newcastle to secure his seventh crown, there wasn’t the unbridled elation that you’d expect would be the immediate reaction to being crowned best in the business. Yes, he understood the magnitude of what he and the Red Bull Holden Racing Team had done, but processing how they’d done it needed a little more time. Which explains why Whincup’s face painted a picture of disbelief as much as joy as the realisation of his series win sunk in.
The reason? Rewind 24 hours from that chequered flag and how he felt then, he admits now. Fresh from shaking down the new RBHRT charger for this year’s title defence at Queensland Raceway last week, J-Dub cast his mind back to last November and Newcastle, and arguably the most precipitous rollercoaster of his racing life.
“There was some disbelief initially because of how it shook out,” he says, recalling how he looked in the TV images and photos as soon as he climbed out of the car.”
A day earlier, when contact with Michael Caruso’s Nissan early in the penultimate race and subsequent last-place finish saw him spot rival Scott McLaughlin a 78-point series lead with one race left, Whincup figured championship number seven would have to wait.
“We came to Newcastle after having ground our way to a 30-point lead in the championship, it felt like we’d been grinding for three months to get every little point that we could. So then on the Saturday, for us to have such a small contact, end up in the wall, finish last and then be basically 80 points down before the final race … it looked like we were done,” he says.
“On the night before the final race, we sat around and thought ‘after all we’ve done, we can’t finish the year like this’. All we wanted to do was go out with some pride, win the last race if we could, and that’s all we focused on. I’m not one who generally gets lucky, and we needed to lot of luck that day after what had happened to us in the first race. And we got that. So there was definitely shock for me on the Sunday, because we didn’t expect to be there.”
Allied with Whincup’s win, McLaughlin’s well-documented travails in the final race – three penalties, two incidents with rivals and an 18th-place finish – handed J-Dub the title. And while he knew what he’d achieved, it took some time – and a good deal of distance from his day job – for Whincup to clear his mind and right his body to be in a place to reminisce.
“I didn’t really get to reflect on what happened and really processing it until some time after the race when I got a break and got away from it all,” he admits.
“The afternoon after the race, you’re running around doing 4000 interviews, and I actually got quite crook as I didn’t spend the time I usually would recovering after a crazy race like that. Two hours afterwards, I was pretty sick and basically bailed out to the hotel to recover. The next few days were a bit of a whirlwind, and I got pretty run down. So I got away from it all, got some physical space and brain space, and then processed how it had all gone down.
“I had to do what was best for me to recharge the batteries and turn the brain off. I went down onto the Murray River, got on the boat, and concentrated on the small stuff; getting the boat out and getting three meals a day was all I was up for because mentally, I was fried. But it worked and it was exactly what I needed.”
That’s in the past, so what of the future? Last week’s shakedown of the new ZB Commodore, launched with much fanfare in the picture-postcard setting of Sydney Harbour last month, was the culmination of a massive workload for Triple Eight Race Engineering, who have been burning the midnight oil to get Whincup’s car, not to mention those of RBHRT teammate Shane van Gisbergen and stablemate Craig Lowndes, ready to go for the Adelaide 500 season-opener on the first weekend of March. Being involved in a new project of this magnitude, Whincup says, does wonders for your energy levels and motivation to get back to work.
“It’s really rewarding to see something like this come together and for all of us to play our own little part in it,” he says.
“The crew started on the 7th of January and then were working through until 3am the morning of the shakedown at the track and a 7.30am start. So it’s a massive effort, and the reward for all of that hard work is seeing three brand-new race cars on the circuit. Job satisfaction doesn’t get a lot better than that.
“I’m heading down the pit lane in a hand-built car that 50 of my mates have put together … you can’t help but get reflective in those sorts of moments.”
With 107 race wins and the afore-mentioned seven titles, there’s plenty of personal success for Whincup to get reflective about, but he figures that can wait “until I’m old and spending more time on the Murray”. For the time being, Whincup, who turned 35 last week, is all about the small details that make up a bigger picture for he and his team to remain successful.
“There’s nothing too technical about me – I like to keep things simple, so that means you don’t get too caught up in longer-term things,” he says.
“Yes, I probably will reflect on the records and numbers and things like that when I’m 60. But right now, we get to take the car to the track, get it working as well as we can and I try to cross the finish line before the others who are trying to do the same thing. It sounds so basic, but that’s a huge motivator for me.
“It’s the small things that you find inspiration in and get energy from. What’s on the immediate horizon, the challenges that come up on that day, I would never get bored of that. That’s what this game is all about.”
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com