He’s the reigning champion, a four-time V8 Supercars title holder and he heads into the final round of the season with a 20-point series lead from Craig Lowndes. Of course, we’re talking about Red Bull’s very own Jamie Whincup.
But the Sydney 500 circuit has been no friend to the 30-year-old in years past. In fact, J-Dub is yet to finish on the podium in eight attempts and the last time he was in a real championship battle in Sydney he lost to James Courtney in 2010.
History’s against him but J-Dub will be doing everything in his power to make sure history doesn’t repeat – again.
We caught up with him this week to get his final words on the closest championship battle in V8 Supercars history.
RBRA: Having trailed previously heading into Phillip Island, does being in front by 20 points change your mentality this weekend?
JW: No. Anything under 50 points is pretty much nothing one way or the other, especially going into Homebush. We’ve got to go hard. That was the whole mentality at Phillip Island and we’ll be going just as hard this weekend.
RBRA: Homebush has been cruel to you in the past…
JW: It’s going to be an uphill battle. I’ve never been on the podium before so it’s always going to be a tough ask. We were able to break a little hoodoo at Phillip Island so hopefully we can do the same here. We need to. I’ve been competitive there and I’ve been in the box seat a couple of times but I’ve done a tyre or caused a red flag or something silly. We have all the tools there. I just need a clean run.
RBRA: What do you remember of 2010, the last time you were in this position?
JW: Wow. It was just disappointment and frustration really. That’s the nightmare scenario. We were going for the championship then and that was the last time we were going for a championship in Sydney and it got away from me. We led before the rain and then got caught up in that massive storm and me, Frosty and James Courtney all ended up in the wall. That’s probably the worst memory. In 2009 we were trying to win the teams’ championship and all we had to do was finish and Lowndesy and I failed to do that. That was pretty low.
RBRA: Will it be business as usual for you and Lowndesy or guns at 10 paces?
JW: Nothing like that. We know what’s required and we’ll both race hard like always. There are no team orders. The championship is up for grabs. All we have to do is not run into each other and may the best man win. There will be no dodgy moves or anything like that. We’ll race hard, race fair and whoever comes home first deserves it. Of course, that’s not accounting for Winterbottom pulling off a big upset, which can happen – especially in Sydney.
RBRA: Regardless of this weekend’s results, you will have finished the year with more wins that any other driver…
JW: That’s almost exactly the same as 2010. So much so that it’s eerie. That stung hard. We were in a similar position where we’d won more races than any other driver but we had a few DNFs that cost us. Without trying to sound arrogant, I think we’ve done enough to deserve this one, too. We’ve fought hard and we’ve won a lot more races than anyone else. I feel as a collective group, we’ve worked harder than anyone else. We certainly deserve it and hopefully we can get that result.
RBRA: You haven’t finished worse than second in the championship since 2007, with four championships to your name. What makes this year still matter so much?
JW: I don’t think I’ve ever been more motivated than this year and I think a lot of it has to do with the Car of the Future. There’s a lot of myth around that I had the best car last year and the four years before that, and an advantage over Craig and everyone else. I actually take that as a compliment for the team because we work hard to have our cars be the best. But in terms of the general public, it’s perceived that my car was mechanically better. But now there’s no debate in it this year – we’ve all got the same car and it all comes down to the human element. So without doubt, there’s more motivation for me this year than there has been any other year.
RBRA: Speaking of public perspective, it probably doesn’t help that arguably the most popular driver of the past 20 years is your team-mate…
JW: I’m sure Craig’s fans would love him to get a win. Craig’s a brilliant driver, a good bloke and a great ambassador for the sport. But as a driver, I don’t think about that. Like anything in life, he who works the hardest should be rewarded. And if that’s Craig or anyone else, then so be it. But I honestly feel like I couldn’t have done anything more this year than I have. I’ve burned the midnight oil and my mechanics and engineers have done the best job possible. And I need to justify their commitment to car No.1.
RBRA: You and Craig are closer than ever this year – on the track and off it. Is it harder racing a friend than a rival?
JW: For sure. All year Craig and I have been working together and for it to come down to us two, well, it does make it a little harder. I’d rather be going head-to-head with Frosty but if I can’t win the championship, then I’d much rather Craig win than anybody else. That’s why we’re not going to do anything stupid and run into each other. I’d be a lot more comfortable going head-to-head with Frosty than Craig.
RBRA: How many hours a week do you spend working or thinking about racing?
JW: It’d be easier to say how many I don’t – zero. From the time I wake up to the time I got to bed, I’m directly or indirectly doing anything I can to improve. My whole life revolves around being the best driver I can be. It always has been – from where I live to my lifestyle. The question I ask myself every day is: “Is this making me faster?” If the answer is “no”, then I don’t do it. It’s a bit of a life sentence really but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
RBRA: He’s 124 points behind but is Frosty out of the equation?
JW: No way. You can’t write Frosty off. It’s Sydney, he’s very fast and anything can happen there. If Craig and I have a mishap on Saturday, Frosty could lead the championship going into Sunday. He’s definitely a contender. Obviously, on paper, things are in Red Bull’s favour, which is great for the sponsors and the boss but for us, and the engineers and mechanics who have an invested interest in one car, it’s a crazy scenario and it’s highly stressful.
RBRA: And then there’s the twilight factor on Saturday. And we’re not talking about vampires…
JW: Yeah, it’s going to be crazy. We’ve got no idea where the sun is going to be. It’s shaping up as a punter’s dream. I’m all for twilight events but geez, the fact it’s happening at the same time as the championship is being decided – it’s huge.
RBRA: Last words to Craig before you line up on the starting grid?
JW: As always, good luck. I want Lowndesy and Mark both to go hard and have good weekends. But hopefully, we go a little bit better.