An all-action opening race in the Gulf Air Desert 400 has turned the V8 Supercar Championship title battle into one to lose for Team Vodafone's Jamie Whincup after he secured the opening win of the weekend in Bahrain.
Whincup took the victory in a tempestuous first race in the Middle East but the main talking point of the race came following a clash between rivals Mark Winterbottom and Garth Tander, who now how work to do to try and close the gap to the Ford man out front.
The action erupted mid-way through the race when Winterbottom ploughed into Tander, spinning the Holden star and earning himself a drive-through penalty. It meant both are now even more points behind Whincup in the Championship; Winterbottom 147 points and Tander 164 points.
They pair were heading into the slowest turn on the track and Winterbottom lunged on the inside. Winterbottom shunted Tander sideways and left himself in trouble. Both got re-started, Tander joining back in before Winterbottom was given a drive-through penalty.
“I haven't seen the vision, but from what I'm told he may have run out of brakes or something else ... maybe ability,” Tander fumed. “He needs to learn if you want to fight for a championship you need to play percentages and that's not how you do it.”
However, Winterbottom countered that he had tried to avoid a collision but his rival had slowed too much.
"There's not much you can do; you try your best to stop,” he said. I could have rolled off the brake and banged into him but I almost came to a full stop trying to miss him. If I had whacked him up the arse then it would be cut and dry but he was slow when I was trying to pass him. I tried my best to miss him."
This happened after Tander was already bruised and battered from an opening stoush with Whincup's team-mate Craig Lowndes. At one point Lowndes pushed into Tander so hard the Holden driver bounced in almost a full car width. Tander pushed back and the battle was on.
Jack Daniel's Todd Kelly joined in with a brave inside move that earnt dividends when he snuck through down the inside of the melee. While all of that was happening Jim Beam's Steven Johnson got around the outside.
“I don't mind getting passed, but how about having a bit of professional courtesy and leaving a bit of room when you do it?” Tander said. “Todd [Kelly] and Craig [Lowndes], when they came past they just drove into the side of my car. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, getting back up the front and racing some of those guys.”
But Lowndes said hard racing was hard racing.