“You’ve got to go flat-out. You’ve got to go hard. You’ve got to go for the win. There’s no room for cruising for anyone at this stage”.
They’re words direct from the mouth of reigning champion and 2013 title contender Jamie Whincup who has warned Phillip Island could have a dramatic effect on the landscape of the championship picture and render any one of the championship contenders’ seasons over in the blink of an eye.
As we all know well by know, J-Dub is locked in a tense championship fight with Red Bull team-mate Craig Lowndes and FPR duo Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison. For the first time since 2010, J-Dub finds himself trailing in championship points and while it may only be six points, history is not on his side.
“The last time I was behind in the championship was 2010 and obviously James Courtney went on to win that year,” he says.
“That year, James was great and at the end of the day, his bad days weren’t as bad as my bad days. And to be honest, this year has a bit of that 2010 feel about it for me. We’ve had a few DNFs while leading races. We had a tyre blow-out in NZ while leading the race, we had a tail shaft blow-out at Winton while leading and another tail shaft issue at the Gold Coast. And of course I’ve made some mistakes, too. I had a foot slip off the pedal in NZ while leading and at the Gold Coast I missed the apex by three inches, caught the wall and caused a red flag and therefore got excluded from qualifying and any chance of winning that race.
“And if we’re talking about championship-defining moments, missing the apex by three inches is a major game-changer and cost us a lot of points that day.”
As such, J-Dub knows as well as anybody that he can’t afford another DNF at Phillip Island – just as he can’t afford to let his foot off the pedal at the same time.
“No one can afford just to go around and collect points here – not when the championship is at stake and the points are so tight,” J-Dub continues.
“The championship means a lot of different things to different people. Craig hasn’t won one in 14 years and he and all of his fans would love nothing more. Frosty and FPR are looking for their first ever and we’re as hungry as ever – we want to win Red Bull’s first championship.
“So from a fan’s point of view, I think this weekend shapes as one of the best rounds in recent history. That’s not cool for me, Craig or the FPR guys – we want to make it as boring as possible but that’s not the case. The reality is, it’s a dog fight and no doubt will be until the last lap of Sydney.”
And with a dog fight comes imminent danger. Because while four cars may be vying for the 2013 championship, there remain another 24 drivers intent on finishing their seasons on a high.
“If anyone’s thinking it’s going to be me, Lowndesy, Mark and Will cruising out the front they’ve got another thing coming,” J-Dub concedes.
“Tander, Reynolds, Bright, Courtney, Van Gisbergen and all those guys will be well in the mix and quick. We’re going to have a championship battle going on with those blokes who are out there having a free swing and couldn’t care less about how the championship unfolds. They want to finish the year on a high and rightly so.”
With that in mind, J-Dub has joined the chorus of championship contenders and their respective team members calling for reason at Phillip Island this weekend.
“I think both parties, those in contention for the championship and those not, need to be really careful of each other – those blokes having a loose swing could change the fight altogether,” J-Dub says.
“If I was in their position, I’d like to think I’d be respectful of the guys in contention. You need to do well for your team but I’d like to think if it were me I’d have a bit of respect and awareness of what’s going on. But I know that mentality won’t apply to everyone and I don’t blame anyone else for doing their thing – that’s racing. We don’t give them any favours so why should they give them back.
“I don’t expect anyone to be cautious but I honestly believe were I in that position, that I would have some consideration that if two guys were going for the championship I wouldn’t have an influence on it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t try my best to pass both of them and win the race, but I wouldn’t take a desperate lunge on one of them that could take one of them out and have championship implications.”
Like JJ and Dutto before him, J-Dub is resigned to the fact that what can happen usually will. But he’s somewhat comforted by the point that team orders won’t play any part in the result – at least not at Phillip Island.
“I know Will won’t be doing Frosty any favours and I can’t see Dave Reynolds or Alex Davison doing so either after a few incidents this year. If anything, hopefully they’ll be doing me a few favours,” he finishes with a laugh.