Whincup wins Clipsal opener
21 March 2009
Jamie Whincup got his V8 Supercar championship title defence off to a perfect start in race one of the Clipsal 500, taking the race win with pace certain to put fear into his rivals.
Whincup fought back from starting, in his words, 'like a taxi driver,' dropping from pole down to fifth as the lights went green and gifting the lead to his Vodafone team-mate, Craig Lowndes.
The reigning champ simply regrouped, got his head down and worked his way forwards, passing Paul Dumbrell, James Courtney, Garth Tander in the course of the next eleven laps, then passing Lowndes for the lead eight laps later.
Whincup maintained the advantage through two safety car periods, before stopping for his solitary pitstop five laps before Lowndes. Despite being put under pressure from his team-mate in the second half of the race, and a third and final safety car period, Whincup was able to demonstrate that the challenge of an all-new car for the Triple Eight Vodafone squad has changed nothing of the team's position as the one to beat.
“After my taxi driver start it was an amazing day for TeamVodafone,” Whincup said. “Everyone worked so hard during the off season so it was great to come out and get a result.
“To be honest it was an emotional day for me. We debuted a new car, there was a certain amount of expectation and pressure on me to back up after last year. I felt a great sense of relief when I crossed the chequered flag.
“The car is a real credit to the team, it was fantastic and just got better and better as the race went on.”
Lowndes faltered in the latter stages of the race, with an apparent mistake dropping him off Whincup's tail, then a number of further mistakes brought about by suspected power steering fluid loss, which put him out of second place and into the team's garage with just a handful of laps left.
Lowndes loss was Lee Holdsworth's gain, with the Garry Rogers Motorsport driver making up from losing a potential second place on the start grid due to his kerb-hopping antics, to adopt that place across the finish line with a strong and consistent performance.
Finishing third, on his Holden Racing Team debut, was Will Davison. The former Ford man's debut for the Red team was not perfect as it was bookended by two mistake. A poor start as the Melbourne resident braked to stop his car creeping, just as the lights went green meant a tardy getaway, then he suffered from a late spin, possibly assisted by oil from team-mate Garth Tander's car, but fortunately he was in sufficient clear air not to lose position.
“It was an absolute thrill to be on the podium today” he said. “It has been a big first weekend with the Toll Holden Racing Team, I have been counting down the days.
“We had very good speed in qualifying except I mucked up the shootout and threw away a potential pole position. It's an incredible car and it really opened my eyes to how good it was. I bluffed the start and had a pretty tough race from there on but I kept calm and kept patient and had a car that was very quick.
“It was very enjoyable being able to pass so many cars like that. I am pretty knackered, I am not really sure what happened at the end there, Garth had a bit of rubbish coming out of the back of his car, a bit of smoke and possibly a bit of oil. Now I just hope to get through 78 laps again tomorrow because it was pretty tough today. I learnt so much over that race, new car and new team and I will be happy to do a similar thing tomorrow.”
Davison's former team and team-mate Steven Johnson crossed the line in fourth, keeping out of trouble and focused in the difficult conditions of the 78 lap race, behind him finished Stone Brother's Shane van Gisbergen, who drove a feisty race at time, dicing with Dumbrell in the early stages.
Sixth went to Brad Jones Racing's Team BOC Jason Richards. The team from Albury managed both cars in the top ten with Cameron McConville driving his WOW liveried entry from the back of the grid – after crashing in Saturday's qualifying session – to ninth position, picking up a star performer award in the process.
Todd Kelly took seventh, with brother Rick finishing in tenth, on the first race for their new sans Walkinshaw Holden team, with the distinctive Larry Perkins exhaust system.
“I'm drained, but I'm still pretty stoked that both of our cars finished in the top ten and it was also a great job by Dale [Wood] to finish 14th after yesterday,” Rick Kelly. “Jack had some good pace as well and was quite strong as well.
“Our car's handling extremely well and it was capable of staying in front of those cars that we managed to get in front of before the cool suit problem started to hurt us.
To be honest the whole team has done a great job just to get here and finish in the top ten with two new Jack Daniel's Commodores. That's about the best we could have hoped for but both Todd and I have to start back in the field again with the new qualifying rules for this year.
Russell Ingall finished eighth in the Supercheap Auto Racing Paul Morris Commodore.
Notable hardships were suffered by Lowndes, losing second in the last few laps due to power steering woes, and Tander who dropped out of the race with an increasingly smokey car, with just over ten laps to go.
“Something felt weird in the steering straight after the pit stop, but then it felt fine for 30 laps,” the HRT man said. “The first sign of something major was when I saw smoke in the mirrors. Then the steering started to come and go as the oil drained out and that was that. It's not a good way to start the year, but the new qualifying rules will work for us this weekend – you have to play to your advantages don't you? So we'll gladly start third again and try get a result.”
There were a mere three safety car periods in the race, which is not bad going for the Adelaide enduro. The first came on lap eight with GRM's Michael Caruso hitting the wall. The caution period lasted until lap twelve, and then the following green period was arrested two laps later by Michael Patrizi accomplishing a similar feat. Paul Dumbrell's Autobahn Racing Commodore was assisted into the wall and to a halt on lap 44, but pushed back into action to free the track from yellows.
Mark Winterbottom also suffered problems and finished down in 18th after contact with Shane van Gisbergen at turn four late on.
“We can't do much about turn four I guess; it's one of those things and I just hope I've got it out my system!” he said, referring to his penalty in qualifying. “The first I knew of Shane was when he was hitting the back of my car. He must have come from a fair way back because I had a pretty good run at the corner. It's hard to pass there so I reckon he would have been struggling to pull it up. Put two-on-two there and it normally ends up in a collision.
“I felt fine all the way through the race, but the car balance wasn't good after we stopped. The car was strong early on but we did something in the stop that made it more of a struggle.”
Unlike previous seasons, the Clipsal's second race will feature the same grid as Friday's qualifying line-up rather than having position determined by race one results. As McConville mused, 'the only other championship where that happens is in World Superbikes, and they can go four abreast into a corner.' It'll be another tough 78 laps in Adelaide.
For Whincup, starting on pole, it could be a rather easier race than today's, as long as he makes a clean start. However, given the evidence of today's race, even if Whincup had to start from McConville's bog-last position, you wouldn't bet too much on him not being able to make it on to the podium…