Whincup confirms title in Sydney
6 December 2009
Champion-elect Jamie Whincup was left physically and mentally exhausted after one of the most gruelling V8 Supercar Championship races of the year, but still took the crown in the penultimate race of the season.
Needing only a 28th-place finish in front of a 71,000-strong Sydney Telstra 500 crowd - which brought the total for just two days to 123,000 people – Whincup sealed the deal with fifth as Toll Holden Racing's Garth Tander took the first-ever racewinner's trophy.
Tander won today from Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom and Fujitsu Racing's Jason Bright, who has still to secure his future for next year, but it was TeamVodafone's Whincup that took the headlines with just one day and another 250km to go in the 2009 season. It was back to back championships for TeamVodafone's Whincup, becoming the first man since Marcos Ambrose - who is rightly being proclaimed one of the country's finest sporting exports with a career in America's NASCAR - to succeed in completing the feat.
“I fought hard, but I had nothing left in me - this week's been draining, I must admit,” Whincup said, “I'm rapt with my performance. I thought that was the best I could have done with not much time this week to be a racing car driver or to focus on steering wheels, throttles and brakes and stuff like that. We've had a huge week, but finished it off with that double championship.”
When asked to reflect on his titles, Whincup said it would take time to understand the magnitude of his achievements and one of the best winning records in the history of the Australian Touring Car Series.
“You just cherish every moment you've got by yourself to really reflect on exactly what it means," he confessed, "I had a little bit of time on that in-lap across the line, and I was chatting away to 'Skaifey' – I could hardly hear him, but you come in and it's all happening, and I had about a minute there on the cool-down lap to reflect on the achievements. It's an unbelievable feeling.
"I decided to dedicate my life to motorsport and racing cars and the ultimate here is to race a V8 Supercar and win a championship. Absolutely everything goes in the basket and the championship for me is absolutely everything.”
In an enthralling battle of man, machine and track, Whincup was leading at one stage before dramas struck time and time again with other cars. Tander got the best of team strategy and car set-up to win the race, but fifth was more than enough to seal the title for Whincup from Tander's team-mate Will Davison, who finished 15th.
“We've got a great leader and I'm sure the continuity is going to be there next year," the champion commented, "Everything that lifted my motivation, especially this year, the fact that Marcos Ambrose was the last person to go back-to-back for a double championship, that was my sole motivation.
“The biggest thing is the opposition see that number one and they see the accolades that come with winning a championship. That makes them work extra hard to try and beat you, so they've got that extra motivation. For me, it's trying to stay ahead that's twice as hard. Knowing that, being able to win at the end of this year with that challenge, is totally to the reward or what it's all about. It's twice as hard.
“Last year, I'd fight hard but the guys would give my a bit of slack here and there, and maybe let me through and I was able to have a nice, easy run to the flag. But, this year, they didn't give me an inch. They want to knock me over harder and harder.”
Tander was over the moon with his own result, which may set up next season for a possible shot at a second championship.
“I'm absolutely ecstatic with today's result, it was very special to win in Sydney first up – I did it in Hamilton last year and to do it again today and also get pole was very satisfying,” Tander said, “For us, our priority is to lock the teams' championship away. It's massive for everyone on the team – the guys that prep the car, do all the work back in the workshop, work all the late nights, do all the pit stops – it's their championship and they're the ones that deserve the title so we're very keen to win it.
“If we do that, we've won the teams' championship, finished second and third in the drivers' championship, and won Phillip Island and Bathurst – and that's not a bad year to have.”
In an exciting 84 laps, the race really spiced up once it past the quarter-distance point. It was on for young and old as tyres wore and brakes slipped with the challenging circuit getting the better of many. The drivers were completely tested and spent.
It started with Valvoline Cummins' Lee Holdsworth, who led the race and had a podium in sight until he ran into simple bad luck. He followed a bump between Paul Dumbrell and Dean Fiore into a fluid slick across the track. In seconds, he lost control and slid head first into one of the many walls, leaving his dreams of a victory - or at least a podium at the first Sydney Telstra 500 - shot. It was a great misfortune for Holdsworth who was clearly one of the best performers in the field.
As the safety car tidied up a mess from a Cameron McConville lock-up under brakes, which left his WOW Commodore in a wall, Whincup dove into the pits to lose his first position on strategy but with a long way to go still had an ace up his sleeve.
The drama continued with James Courtney, with only bad luck stopping what could have been a huge year, when his driver side door began opening. As desperately as he struggled to close it while trying to handle a one ton monster, he could not solve the problem.
Courtney was forced to pit when in second position but, although the Jim Beam team taped the door shut, it didn't hold, forcing the car back into the pits. Within laps, Courtney's Jim Beam Racing team-mate Steven Johnson brushed a wall and flattened a tyre, leaving both in the pits at the same time.
Despite his misfortune, Holdsworth hung on to claim fourth place, with Garry Rogers Motorsport team-mate Michael Caruso coming home sixth, ahead of Jason Bargwanna Steven Richards,, Rick Kelly and Shane van Gisbergen. Title contender Davison was 15th, two spots ahead of Whincup's TeamVodafone colleague Craig Lowndes.