The reigning Supercars champ talks Bathurst, maths and surfboards ahead of his ‘home’ race on the Surfers streets this weekend.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
‘Mathematically still in contention’: four words that racing drivers usually don’t want to hear, but four words that provide a flickering flame of hope for reigning Supercars champion Jamie Whincup, who is a chance – albeit a self-confessed slim one – of keeping the number 1 on his Red Bull Holden Racing Team ZB Commodore for 2019.
Trailing series leader – and RBHRT teammate Shane van Gisbergen – by 404 points with a maximum of 900 left to earn in 2018 is, as he drily observes, “less than ideal”. But J-Dub didn’t become a seven-time Supercars champion by accepting the hand he’s been dealt, and plans to push as hard as ever for the rest of the year, starting with the Gold Coast 600 on the streets of Surfers Paradise this weekend.
“My mentality is that you never say die, and I’ll be pushing as hard as I can until the last lap of the last race,” Whincup, who sits third in the title chase, says.
“But the reality is that I’m a long way back. We’ve had a tough year as far as championship points goes, and one that probably doesn’t reflect the speed the car has had, probably for the last two-thirds of the season. We’ve had a couple of mechanical failures, and I’ve made some errors of my own too like speeding in the pit lane and preventable things like that, so there’s no excuses.
“Shane and Scotty (Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who trails Van Gisbergen by 19 points in second place overall) have been so consistent, so that makes it hard to come back. We’ve been one of the fastest cars all season, but we dumped a heap of points at critical times. But last year shows that you always keep pushing. I wasn’t in the lead at all until after Gold Coast last year, and then we know what happened at Newcastle and how much that weekend turned …
“You keep pushing until the maths tell you you can’t win it anymore”.
Whincup is a long-time Gold Coast resident, and while he’s relishing not having to head to an airport to go to ‘work’ this week, it doesn’t take long for his mind to drift back to the most recent race weekend at Bathurst, where he and teammate Paul Dumbrell qualified second and looked set for a strong result before disaster, one of those afore-mentioned mechanical failures, struck.
Dumbrell was at the controls when Car 1 shed its right front wheel about a quarter of the way through the 161-lap distance, which saw the 2012 Bathurst-winning pair effectively eliminated from the race victory conversation, the duo eventually finishing 10th after a day of wondering what might have been.
“Everything was on plan and internally we felt like we were in the box seat, the car felt fast. But it all turned pear-shaped very quickly when the wheel fell off,” Whincup laments.
“Once you go down a lap, a lap-and-a-half like we did, there’s no real way back from there.
“The wheel just wasn’t tight enough; the rattle gun had to go on for 0.4 of a second, and it went on for 0.35. That’s basically it. Where it happened, when ‘PD’ was coming down the front straight, I’m thankful it happened there because of where the wheel went, down an escape road, and nobody was injured. But where it happened couldn’t have been worse from a performance sense, as ‘PD’ had to do a full lap for six kilometres on three wheels to get us back to the pits. But that was the way it went.”
There’s little respite for Whincup and Dumbrell – and the rest of the field – with Gold Coast coming up just two weeks after the Great Race, and as always, the Surfers Paradise street circuit represents a daunting challenge over two 102-lap races, with traffic, concrete walls and tyre bundles waiting to trip you up at every turn.
“You swear that the track is narrower each year than when you drove it last,” Whincup laughs at what has become a standard sensation on his opening laps of Friday practice at Surfers every October.
“It’ll seem even more like that this time because we’ve been to Tailem Bend, which is so wide, and Bathurst is pretty wide as well. Gold Coast is as tight as it gets, but it’s a great track, one I really enjoy driving because you’re right on the edge every lap. There’s no small mistakes there, every error has consequences, and that’s what we like.
“Getting one perfect lap in when you do a Shootout there, that 70 seconds or so, is as intense as any lap we do all year. You have the track to yourself, minimal fuel, you’re in total attack mode.”
It’s a mode that has served Whincup well on the streets of his adopted home; he’s won at Surfers five times, more than any other driver. While a healthy haul of points would keep that ‘mathematically still in contention’ phrase relevant for the next round at Pukekohe in New Zealand and the season finale in Newcastle after that, Whincup has some unique silverware on his mind ahead of a weekend that always over-delivers on its significant promise.
There’s nowhere else on the calendar that presents its winning drivers with surfboards as trophies, and while Whincup admits he’s more of a jet-ski man than a surfer at Surfers, he’s keen to add to his collection on Saturday and Sunday.
“I wish I had more of them to need a separate trophy room, but they’re displayed around the place,” he says.
“I think I’ve got room for another surfboard though. Or if I don’t, I’ll make space …”