The Red Bull Holden Racing Team star’s mix of stealth and speed has him ready to take on the new challenge of Newcastle this weekend.
Whoever said that numbers don’t lie clearly wasn’t referring to this year’s Supercars championship, and in particular the man who arrives in Newcastle for this week’s season-deciding event as the series leader, Jamie Whincup. The Red Bull Holden Racing Team star is no stranger to being in a title fight – after all, he’s won six championships to be the most successful driver in the sport’s history – but it’s how he’s made it to this year’s finale in top spot that’s a point of difference to his previous title tilts.
Whincup comes to Newcastle for races 25 and 26 of the season with a 30-point championship advantage over Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, but trails the F*** flyer in race wins (seven to three) and pole positions (14 to two) throughout 2017. In fact, you have to go as far back as 2006 – Whincup’s first season in the Triple Eight stable – to find a year where J-Dub has won fewer races (he won two 11 years ago).
The stats suggest Whincup shouldn’t be in contention at all, but unerring consistency (he’s finished 21 of the 24 races inside the top six) and peaking when it matters (he won from pole last time out on McLaughlin’s home patch at Pukekohe) have J-Dub in pole position as the series heads to Newcastle for the last race, and for the first time.
How’s he feeling as he stands on the verge of a seventh title? What’s the new Newcastle circuit like? And does championship pedigree really count for something against a driver a decade younger who has never been in this position before? All valid questions – so we asked them.
Jamie, first things first: how’s your health? You were a little second-hand from what we understand after Auckland …
Jamie Whincup: All good now, but I had a shocking few days after New Zealand. I’m not sure whether it was a bug or food poisoning, but whatever it was, it wasn’t good. There’s better ways to lose weight … But I was able to get back on track last week, get some training in, so I’m completely right for Newcastle.
Supercars season-deciders aren’t exactly anything new for you, but does the run-in to it feel different this time because of the type of season it has been?
JW: The stats don’t show it, but I feel like I’ve done as many pole laps and race-winning performances as any other year – it’s just that our main opposition has been very strong and very fast. The numbers might not look that way, but we’ve done a great job as a team to come to Newcastle and put ourselves in contention again. Teamwork and hard work has meant we could hang in there when things weren’t going our way and we looked to be on the back foot, so I feel we’ve grabbed every point that we could when we’ve had a chance to.
What have you learned about the way you operate and the team operates in a season like this when you’ve not been able to control the narrative?
JW: We’ve stuck with who we are as a team and haven’t been put off our guard when it’s been a grind or if we’ve not been on the ultimate pace of the opposition, and that’s what I’m most proud of in a way. We haven’t chased knee-jerk solutions or been led into unforced errors, and that’s not easy to do when you’re not in a position of control. That’s all we can take into this Newcastle weekend, keep doing what we have been and making sure we do our best job. That’s all we can control now.
The theory is that experience means something when you get to this time of year – is that overblown a bit, or does it just help in terms of being ready for how it feels, the expectation and the excitement where you want as few surprises as possible?
JW: If this was Scotty’s (McLaughlin) first or second year, then yes, my experience at this time of year would be a bigger story and potentially a real advantage for me. But he’s been around for a long while, won races and all of that, so I don’t think it’s a factor. There’s a lot going on in the lead-up and the attention naturally narrows on the drivers who can still win it, but once the helmet goes on, none of that matters anyway. It’s a case of same old, same old. I’d like to say the experience factor is an advantage for me, but I don’t see it. Unfortunately!
As well as a title fight, there’s a new track to combat for the first time this weekend. You’ve been to Newcastle to check it out beforehand – what are we going to see?
JW: We made it pretty obvious that we’d been up there, but there’s no doubt every other driver and engineer have been up there to take a look – we just told everyone about it! The track is going to be a challenge, and the elevation will be something you notice on the TV. Out of Turn 2, the track cascades down to Turn 7, and that’ll be the gnarly bit. It’ll all be high-speed, and it looks to be a typical short street track like a Gold Coast, so it’ll throw up a stupid amount of challenge just to get to the end of the race. They’ve done a great job on making the track as wide as possible, but where it wiggles left-right so quickly in the bit that cascades, there’ll be a single line through there. If you make a small error, if you apex 100mm narrower than you want to, it’ll bite pretty hard. Plenty of mirrors will go, and the doors might not have a lot of paint left on them by the end of Sunday …
Last one: how do you keep this week ‘normal’, or is part of it accepting that it won’t or can’t be ‘normal’ and just getting on with what you can control?
JW: I’m someone who in life, not just racing, likes to keep things fairly simple, so I’ll be methodical and work my way through the days and adjust as I go. You can’t get caught up into looking at the end of Sunday when it’s Thursday, if you like. There’s 50 people here, I’m one of those, and my job is showcase the speed and engineering of car 88. Same as always. Bigger stakes, sure, but you can’t lose focus on that no matter what else is going on. Do that well and get the best out of it, and then hopefully some good things will happen for us.
By Matt Clayton for redbull.com