TeamVodafone's Jamie Whincup further strengthened his grip on top spot in the V8 Supercars standings by recording a third straight maximum score on the dusty tarmac of Bahrain International Circuit.
After 300-point hauls from both Surfers Paradise and Bathurst, Whincup again swept the board in the Gulf Air Desert 400 for his fourth maximum of the season - he opened the campaign in similar fashion at the Clipsal 500 - winning races two and three to open out a near 200-point gap over nearest challenger Mark Winterbottom.
With TeamVodafone team-mate Craig Lowndes taking a brace of podium finishes, and young gun James Courtney and resurgent Supercheap Auto Racing Team veteran Russell Ingall taking one apiece, Whincup also effectively lost one of biggest potential rivals for the title when Toll Holden Racing's Garth Tander suffered badly at a track that has not been kind to him over the years. While a cautious Whincup sits on 2916 points, and Winterbottom on 2729, the reigning champion languishes third overall on 2624.
“We are not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Whincup insisted, “There's still 600 points up for grabs. I'd be silly not to change my style now.”
Tander's weekend went from bad to worse in race three, and the notorious first turn was again the culprit when Jack Daniel Racing's Todd Kelly turned into Jim Beam Racing's Will Davison in a war of the bourbon brands. Tander had gone slightly wide to avoid the trouble and, at one stage, looked fine until the almost unthinkable happened and his own team-mate – coming into the corner – slammed straight into the #1 machine.
The impact left Tander with severe damage to his right rear tyre, and he had to pit, not once, but twice to check the damage even before making his compulsory pit-stop.
Performer of the day, meanwhile, was Winterbottom. The Ford Performance Racing driver had been the villain on Friday when he crashed into Tander and had to make amends for his error today. That he did through a long pit strategy in race two and a timely safety car that helped him push 17 places up the grid from 21st to eighth. A strong start in the final race pushed him up further, into fourth.
"That's what's great about this championship, things can change," Winterbottom noted, "There's still points to be got [this season], I'm still in the running and I'm going to dig deep and give it everything I've got."
Strategy and slick passing moves were the key to Courtney's result in race three, the Jeld-Wen Motorsport driver starting the race from seventh on the grid and running long in the 32-lap finalee, delaying his compulsory pit stop until lap 19. The strategy enabled Courtney to lead the race and make the most of a clear track so that, when he rejoined after his stop, he was up into in fifth position with fresher tyres than his rivals.