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J-Dub’s thirst for a win finally quenched

Jamie Whincup knows a thing or two about winning; after all, the Red Bull Holden Racing Team star has more race victories than all but one driver in the history of touring car racing in this country on his CV – the one and only Craig Lowndes.

But Whincup hasn’t done a lot of winning lately, which made Sunday’s 2017 breakthrough in Townsville a victory that left him partly elated, partly relieved, and – for a minute there – a little bit confused.

“I’d forgotten what it was like,” said Whincup when he returned to parc ferme after taking Race 14 of the Supercars season, and only part of that comment was made in jest. Whincup’s most recent win before Sunday came at Homebush last December, and while he’s been there or thereabouts all this season, second – six times, no less – was the best he could manage.

MORE: Find out exactly how Sunday went down for RBHRT in the live diary

But over 70 laps at the punishing Townsville street circuit, J-Dub and his crew called it right on Sunday, undercutting pole-sitter and race leader Scott McLaughlin (Shell V-Power Racing) with a slick pit stop on lap 16, and resisting pressure from the series leader for the rest of the race to win by 1.6 seconds after an hour and a half of gripping racing.

Jamie Whincup of Red Bull Holden Racing Team wins the Watpac Townsville 400, at the Townsville Street Circuit, Townsville, Queensland, July 09, 2017.

The victory saw Whincup equal Triple Eight stablemate Craig Lowndes on 105 career wins, and the six-time series champ edged to within six points of McLaughlin’s series lead.

“Overall I’m unbelievably happy with that, it’s been a long six months trying to get my first win, and what a place to do it here in Townsville,” said Whincup, after taking his ninth victory at the north Queensland circuit.

“It’s a place I really love racing at and it’s almost a home event for us being in Queensland. The car was great, full credit to the crew, they gave me a really quick car which was the difference, a car to be able to fight the other guys with. So a massive team effort, we dug deep and got the chocolates.”

Whincup trailed McLaughlin home in second place in Saturday’s 70-lapper, and despite being in touching distance of the championship lead with exactly half of the season in the books, wasn’t about to get too ahead of himself. Some Sunday night celebrating was on the cards, sure, but Whincup was under no illusions as to the task ahead, and the focus required to achieve it.

“It’s going to be a long old grind for the next six months until Newcastle,” he said.

“But we’re up for the challenge, and will keep our heads down.”

While Whincup flew the RBHRT flag solo on the Saturday podium, reigning series champion Shane van Gisbergen joined him on Sunday, the Kiwi recovering from a tricky first race of the weekend where he finished seventh after a poor start and coaxing his off-colour car to the finish by ending up in third place 24 hours later.

MORE: What issues were hampering car 97 this time around?

SVG never really figured in the two-horse race at the front on Sunday, but was 24 seconds clear of fourth-placed Mark Winterbottom (The Bottle-O Racing Team) to grab his sixth podium of the year, and consolidate fourth place in the championship.

Shane van Gisbergen of Red Bull Holden Racing Team during the Watpac Townsville 400, at the Townsville Street Circuit, Townsville, Queensland, July 09, 2017.

“The car was alright. We made some good changes overnight and the boys did a great job of fixing the car after the issues yesterday,” SVG said after the race, where he started alongside pole-sitter McLaughlin on the front row.

“In the race, the first stint was atrocious. We lost the race there. I think the gap to the leaders after that got smaller and smaller, we had really good speed. It’s a bit baffling what went wrong. There are some positives and I think we’ve got enough information to move forward. I don’t think we fully understand why we’re quick sometimes and why we’re not other times.”

MORE: How did the drivers prepare for the Townsville 400?

SVG’s deficit to compatriot McLaughlin at the top of the standings is now 231 points after 14 races.

For Lowndes and the TeamVortex entry, Townsville was a familiar story – an underwhelming qualifying followed by a feisty, fast and aggressive recovery and strong race pace to score solid points.

Saturday’s qualifying effort of 19th was his equal-worst of the year, but ‘Lowndesy’ stormed through to sixth in the race. Sunday was more of the same; from way back in 21st, Lowndes hauled his Commodore into 10th place by the flag to retain seventh overall in the standings, and within reach of Winterbottom in sixth.

Craig Lowndes finishes 10th on Sunday at the Townsville 400 2017

Next up for our Triple Eight trio? Ipswich and Queensland Raceway from July 28-30. With both RBHRT and Team Penske knowing the ‘paperclip’ like no other circuit, expect the margins to be miniscule – and the racing to be just as gripping as Townsville was this weekend.

 

By Matt Clayton for RedBull.com