Whincup back on the podium in New Zealand

JAMIE Whincup and Craig Lowndes leave New Zealand second and third in the V8 Supercars championship after a bittersweet weekend for Red Bull Racing Australia.

After Whincup celebrated his maiden win of the 2013 season on Saturday and Lowndes another podium, the pair looked dangerous ahead of Sunday’s two races. But like the mixed fortunes a day earlier, the Pukekohe Jinx that has seemingly haunted Triple Eight Race Engineering for the previous five events in Auckland returned on Sunday.

Whincup started from pole in race one and survived another altercation with Mark Winterbottom to lead the race before his foot slipped from the brake pedal and the No.1 car was sent careering into the sandpit. It was race over for Whincup and like the same race a day earlier, his misfortune was Lowndes’ gain. Starting from ninth, Lowndes made his way up to fourth courtesy of damage to a host of leading cars to improve his championship campaign. Will Davison won that race to claim the championship lead ever-so-narrowly from Whincup.

The second race was kinder to the Red Bull VF Commodores’ however, both emerging unscathed for Whincup to post Red Bull Racing Australia’s third podium of the weekend behind Garth Tander and the inaugural Jason Richards Memorial Trophy-winner Jason Bright.

“I’m absolutely rapt for Brighty to win on a weekend that we remember his team-mate Jason Richards,” said Whincup, who suffered unlucky race-ending dramas in two of four races.

“We had some great pace this weekend but we just couldn’t maintain it. I know I keep saying it but we’re still learning, we’re still striving for that balance and it’s a good result to get two podiums – one a win.”

And as for yet another altercation with Winterbottom in race one?

“He wants to do it rough this year so that’s the way we’re playing it,” Whincup said.

“Frosty’s decided to get pretty aggressive and that’s cool, you get what you give.”

Lowndes meanwhile again struggled with a lack of grip and started and finished ninth in the second race to add to an impressive come-from-behind fourth in race one.

“I need to obviously clean up my qualifying results,” said Lowndes, who finished 16th in Saturday’s respective race after qualifying second.

“Unfortunately, I got caught in traffic today, but as a race car I think we’ve definitely come a step forward over the course of the weekend. Like Jamie said, it’s a balance issue and getting the right mix for grip. The car was a lot nicer to drive. We’re still needing something but in the end the performance of the car is definitely a lot more confidence-inspiring. We’ve got three weeks now to get back to the workshop and make some improvements”

Will Davison leads the championship (697) after nine races from Whincup (681) and Lowndes (591).