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.