Reigning V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup added victory in the opening leg of the Hamilton 400 to the three relatively easy wins in the first three races of the 2009 series, ridding himself of the memories of the heavy accident that ruled him out of last year's event in New Zealand
Towards the end of Saturday's 200km race, Whincup held a six-second lead before a late safety car brought the field back to him, but was still able to resist Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom and Garry Rogers Motorsports' Lee Holdsworth, who completed the podium. Will Davison took fourth for the Toll Holden Race Team, ahead of Steven Johnson (Jim Beam Racing) and Fabian Coulthard (Wilson Security Ford), who was the best of the New Zealanders on their home turf.
“We did a lot of work here last year and got zero reward - it was by far the darkest day of the season,” Whincup said, “We were at a track that really suits us and went home with a completely wrecked car. It wasn't just a car though, it was chassis #12, the Bathurst winner. This one was about re-grouping and getting one back for all of the hard work last year.”
Whincup's comeback came after a horror first day when he was 21st in practice, but all that changed dramatically when he qualified on the front row of the grid alongside Winterbottom.
“We had a crazy day," Whincup admitted, "I was a commentator here last year and 21st in practice yesterday in a car I wasn't quite happy with. But we came out today, qualifying was amazing and then, in the Shootout, there was one thousandth of a second separating us.
“I was pushing 110 per cent and nearly stuck it in the walls a couple of times. I won with a fast car, but I just go about my business, concentrate on one event at a time and think about records after that.”
Despite being beaten once again, Winterbottom insisted that he still had faith that his FPR team can challenge Whincup.
“We are not far off – we can do it over one lap, we just need to do it for 59,” he said, “We've got to work harder and get the car better.”
Holdsworth was thinking further ahead.
“We had quite good pace at the start of the race, and it just got better and better while everyone else fell off," he reflected, "We didn't have the speed of Jamie, but I felt I could get Mark. He just held me off at the end.
“I will have good pace tomorrow. We have got good tyres in the bank and we seem to go well at these street circuits. We always knew we were going to go well at these circuits and the next race is at our home circuit. It's when we get to the events like Phillip Island where the true challenge will be. Our cars don't like the long radius corners so, if we can sort that out, we will have a good championship.”