JAMIE Whincup claimed victory at an action-charged Darwin on Saturday while team-mate Craig Lowndes fell victim to some serious mid-pack carnage from the restart of the controversial 60/60 format.
Like the champion he is, Whincup overcame serious adversity on two occasions – the start and the restart of race one – to snare the lead from pole-sitter Dave Reynolds and the eventual race win with some daring passing. Despite struggling for grip in the first 21-lap half of the race, Whincup finished as not just the winner but the fastest man on track come stage two.
“It was the first time I’ve been able to crack one of these 60/60s,” a jovial Whincup said.
“I’ve won the first half a few times but never the second or the race so we’re very, very happy. Because of the limited tyre allocation, we didn’t know what strategy everyone else was on – whether they were using greens and how many, so it made the restart a little hairy. But we made a good pass and it’s a great result. We showed some really good pace.”
Just a few cars back however, it was a different story. After a horror shoot-out in which Lowndes started as quickest and finished 10th in his VF Commodore, the three-time champion was forced to start from 10th on the grid and faced an uphill battle to maintain his hot streak in Darwin, having left a winner in 2012. Lowndes though was quick to make amends and by the half-time break he was the fastest man on track and found himself in fifth ahead of the double-file rolling restart. But chaos ensued.
As Whincup was sent wide from the rolling re-start and forced into a three-corner battle with Reynolds, Lowndes found himself sandwiched between the HRT cars of Garth Tander and James Courtney. And by the time Whincup sensationally passed Reynolds for the lead, Lowndes was in a hornet’s nest of activity and made contact with both HRT cars that sparked a domino effect and sent cars flying everywhere. It all but ended Lowndes’ race, the current series No.2 forced into the pits and finishing 26th with severe panel damage.
“The car was great but I stuffed up the shoot-out and had to try make amends,” Lowndes said.
“I did that. And then there was carnage everywhere. Up into the hairpin it was a concertina effect. I got hit up the back and of course then I was straight into the back of Garth. There wasn’t much I could do about it. It’s rearranged the steering angle and all kinds of things. I’m disappointed. The car was good enough to be on the podium. The format was always going to be entertaining and I guess we proved that. Luckily we’ve got two races tomorrow still.”
Whincup won from Shane Van Gisbergen and James Courtney after Mark Winterbottom took out team-mate Dave Reynolds while the pair was duelling for second.