Rain, shine and everything in between – Jamie Whincup was ever-present in every weather condition imaginable as the Supercars shone at the Grand Prix.
By Matthew Clayton for redbull.com
It was a different event that elicited differing opinions. With the races at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix counting for championship points for the first time in Supercars history, Shane van Gisbergen was keen to test his Red Bull Holden Racing Team ZB Commodore on the fast sweeps and swoops of Albert Park. Teammate Jamie Whincup? Not so much. Which, to the outsider, might not have made a lot of sense.
SVG had more to lose in Melbourne last weekend, as his rivals had a chance to eat into his healthy championship lead after a perfect weekend in Adelaide to start the season. Whincup, by contrast, had a rare ‘mare in the SA capital, his first DNF for more than 100 races seeing him mired in an unfamiliar 18th position in the standings coming to his home town.
In the end, everyone went home happy – well, sort of. SVG retained his series lead after four races where he never once made the podium, while J-Dub jumped up to sixth place in the overall standings following a quartet of races when he was never off the rostrum, a win, two seconds and a third seeing him annex the Larry Perkins Trophy for the event’s top performer.
Pleased, Jamie? Yes, and no. The format of the races across the weekend was shoehorned in between the on-track time for the first race of the F1 world championship, making for a 25-lap race on Friday, a 13-lapper followed by a 25-lap distance on Saturday, and a final 13-lap blast on Sunday. Whincup nailed two poles, won Saturday’s first race and spent the whole weekend in the top three, but the lingering feeling was one of disappointment after he failed to cap his weekend with a win from pole in Sunday’s final race, a tardy start seeing him fall to third.
“It’s sweet and sour at the moment, I’m filthy with myself for a shocking fourth race,” he said afterwards, when he messed up the start and was behind eventual race-winner David Reynolds (Erebus Penrite Racing) and Nick Percat (Tempur Racing) before the first lap of the 5.3km lakeside circuit was complete.
“I expect more from myself to be honest … But overall, to come home with the Larry Perkins Trophy for the first time is fantastic. It was a great effort by everyone in the team to end up where we are at the end of the second round of the championship this year.”
Whincup’s weekend was one of mastering whatever crazy weather Melbourne threw at the field, and there was plenty of that. Brilliant sunshine on Friday gave way to teeming rain on Saturday, while that evening’s race finished in near-total darkness on a sodden surface as Jamie came home in the wheeltracks of first-time winner Scott Pye (Mobil 1 Boost Mobile Racing) in second.
More importantly, given the rain and Albert Park’s reputation as a car-wrecker, Whincup kept his ZB in A1 nick after his Adelaide misadventures three weeks earlier, and will head to the next round in Symmons Plains in a much better frame of mind.
“We’ll keep the head down – there’s plenty of work to do behind the scenes to fix the car,” he said.
“But we’ll slowly chip away and get there.”
While J-Dub got quite accustomed to spraying champagne across the weekend, SVG went nowhere near the podium. But our combative Kiwi did (in our eyes anyway) win the unofficial award for drive of the event in Sunday’s 13-lapper, storming through from the very back of the grid after qualifying last in a car he described as “rubbish” to finish 13th, mitigating the damage done and ensuring he’d take a 49-point lead over Reynolds to Tassie.
Sunday’s run didn’t match his points haul from a pair of fourth-place finishes on Friday evening and Saturday morning, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, even if he ran into an unusual problem when the race begun.
“Starting from the car park I couldn’t see the start lights, which sucked and actually made a big gap to the pack at turn one,” he explained.
“I played it safe, and then started picking them off after that. We had some really awesome battles coming through.
“We had a really troublesome weekend on the first two days and then we got the car better. It didn’t fix our qualifying results, but I think we salvaged a good weekend, minimised the points loss.”
The third member of the Triple Eight trio, Craig Lowndes, had a tricky weekend of his own at the Grand Prix, and like SVG, had to start last in a race after James Golding (Wilson Security Racing GRM) impeded him in qualifying at turn nine for Race 4, an infringement that saw the Holden youngster slapped with a five-place grid penalty.
Lowndes used all of his experience on slick tyres to shine in the gloom of Saturday evening to finish sixth on a circuit he likened to “an ice rink”, which was his best result of the event. He sits 13th in the overall standings after six races, 177 points in arrears of van Gisbergen.
Six races into 2018, we already have five different winners – and who’s to say we might not get another one or two at the next event at Symmons Plains (Apr 6-8)? J-Dub and SVG will be in agreement on this one – for their sakes, hopefully not.