Coming into the 2017 Supercars season, Jamie “J-Dub” Whincup was chasing his seventh Supercars championship – a feat never conquered before.
Could he do it? Looking at just the first half of the season, you’d probably think he’d be a slim chance.
Four race wins, two pole positions and 15 podiums, it wasn’t the most ideal championship run… And it wasn’t until the Gold Coast 600 when he claimed the championship lead that the rollercoaster began.
We all know how it played out now but at the beginning of the year, no one could have predicted the result, let alone how it played out on the coastline of Newcastle that Sunday afternoon…
Following a whirlwind couple of weeks post-championship letting is hair down, J-Dub has been able to switch off and reflect on the season. We caught up with him to see what he thought of the season that was.
Red Bull Holden Racing Team: Well Jamie, what a season. Did you ever think it would turn out how it did and did you have a specific plan going in to the 2017 season?
Jamie Whincup: Well, I go into every season thinking I’m as good a chance as anyone to win the title but at the same time I never really expect it. In the end, I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. My biggest issue last year was that we made too many mistakes, so our plan this year was to rectify it which we were very happy to do, especially when you look back now at all the opportunities we had and took. The races where we had mishaps, we just tried to make sure we could get out on the track and salvage as many points as we could.
You actually didn’t take the championship lead until the Gold Coast – did you have a fair bit of pressure on yourself by that stage?
JW: We had a lot of pressure all year to improve our car speed, especially in qualifying. It came to on the GC and it was very rewarding. From there we just had to keep on top of it.
We know you love a hard fought battle but how much did you ACTUALLY enjoy the challenge put up by the competitors, namely DJR Team Penske, this year?
JW: I respect all of the competition for the crazy and tough year of racing we had, but in particular the (DJR Team) Penske boys and girls. At the time, it’s never fun going head to head like that but looking back now, it made the win very rewarding.
Look, you’ve won seven championships, there can’t be too many mistakes made in that time – can you think of a lesson that you may have learnt this year?
JW: Wow, that’s a good question. Of course I do and will always make mistakes and there are always heaps of lessons to be learnt each year. This year I was reminded of a lesson that I learnt early on in my career and that is, ‘You can’t win the race on the first lap, but you can certainly lose it.’
We know you’re focused on your own team but looking back down pit lane now; can you name any driver who impressed you or caught your attention this year?
JW: We’re always looking at how our competitors go and the competition is really strong across the field. I would probably say Chaz Mostert though; he really stepped up this year and was in contention right until the end. I think he will no doubt be very hard to beat again next year.
Your good mate Paul Dumbrell was your co-driver for the sixth consecutive year and you both finished fifth in the PIRTEK Enduro Cup, how did that go?
JW: I love driving with PD. It was the first year in a long time that we weren’t in contention at Bathurst in the final stint due to a broken engine and that was tough to take but we pushed through. We will be teaming up again in 2018 which is exciting. Our endurance campaign was below average, again. We lost a lot of points to all the front runners and will need to improve this area in the future.
You’ve also had a long working relationship with your Race Engineer David Cauchi and have managed to be in contention a few times now; do you think winning this one was even more rewarding since you’ve been so close in the past?
JW: Cauchi’s great, we have a good partnership and he’s very good at what he does. Each year we get better and better together. We worked so hard this season to improve and I really feel like we found another gear and it was definitely well worth it.
You’re a race car driver, you’re going to want to push the limits but the introduction of the super soft compound Dunlop tyres didn’t seem to be able to handle it and caused some issues at the beginning of the year, what were some challenges for you in this regard?
JW: I really enjoyed the new tyre this year which meant it was really difficult not to push the limit too far and blow a tyre out. It was just a different tyre that was harder to read for both drivers and engineers so the limits were definitely pushed across the board.
A crash in this sport is inevitable but despite the shunts and engine failures, you still managed to get back out on the track to score points. Can you recall a crash that had you second guessing you’d be able to get back out there?
JW: It was probably the contact after the restart of Saturday’s race at Eastern Creek (Sydney SuperSprint) when SVG got turned around by Scotty McLaughlin. My bonnet was so smashed in I could hardly see over it driving back, it was crazy difficult. A few times I was running off the track and all over the place just because I couldn’t see where I was going, but was able to keep enough pace on to keep the guys behind me.
That’s when you got a podium when you could barely see… Is there a moment that you’re most proud about?
JW: Our never say die attitude until the last lap of the last race.
Yep, we saw that at Newcastle. Your team mate SVG came in to the year as the reigning champion but didn’t have the season he was after. How do you think he went in the end?
JW: I thought SVG did a great job this year. He was always pushing the limits to get the most out of the car and he won more races than I did. It wasn’t as good as his previous year but it looked like he had a lot of fun regardless.
Every circuit is different for various reasons but of all the tracks you’ve raced, is there one that is a standout for you?
JW: Yes, as always it’s Bathurst. It’s an amazing place and we are very lucky to have such an amazing piece of road right here in Australia. I’ve been and raced there numerous times but it still blows me away every time I go there at how steep it is. As for an event, I’m still a big fan of the Adelaide 500 for Round 1. The atmosphere is incredible, the crowds there love it and the weather is always good. Plus it’s not far from the city.
We get you’re probably still relishing in your seventh championship but is an eighth one on the cards? What are your goals next year?
JW: It still hasn’t sunk in yet but I have to make the most of it now. Looking at next year, my goals are to be more competitive at Bathurst and to try and get the most out of the new Next Generation Commodore. We’ve had a few test runs in it already but to go out on the track and race it will be something else.