Defending V8 Supercars Champion Jamie Whincup (pictured) has returned to the winners’ circle with a victory in the second leg of the Skycity Triple Crown at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway, holding off a late charge from a fast-paced Race 1 winner, Mark Winterbottom.
In many ways, the race reminded me of the Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix from last weekend, with the choice of tyres proving one of the key strategic elements in the second stage of the weekend’s events in the Northern Territory.
Whincup elected to use the racier, but less durable, softer compound tyre in the opening phase of the race, and opened a seemingly comfortable gap ahead of his chief rivals, as early race leader Alex Davison opted for the same strategy.
Winterbottom, however, elected to run the softer tyres in the second phase of the race, and the seemingly easy gap held by Whincup began to shrink with every passing lap as Winterbottom made his late-race charge up the order.
It was in many ways a tenacious climb through the pack for Winterbottom, who would have been an outside contender for a top-six result when he rejoined from his pit stop in 13th place. But with many of those around him by now running the harder tyre, the grip at his disposal on a rubbered-up track was something to behold, and he picked off the cars ahead of him with ease – he was up to fourth place just six laps after rejoining from his pit stop!
He was up to second place with just over ten laps to run, and the race looked set for a sensational climax if he could mount enough pace to close down Whincup. Ultimately, however, it became rather academic, as he simply ran out of enough laps – but he did manage to haul the Race 1 podium finisher, Shane van Gisbergen, along for the ride, with the New Zealander performing similar heroics to climb to a third-placed finish from the midfield.
Championship leader James Courtney ran a similar hard-then-soft tyre strategy to finish fourth, although in fairness Craig Lowndes probably should have held onto that place, but for a bungled pit stop that saw him dropped onto the pit apron with only three wheels attached.
Tim Slade took a very fine sixth place by opting for the same tyre management, while Jason Richards – always a solid performer at Darwin – finished seventh, but he opted to start on the soft tyres from 21st on the grid.
Of the other key runners, the Kelly brothers finished in eighth and ninth, with the elder Todd finishing ahead of the younger Rick – they were followed home by Steven Richards.
Garth Tander was caught up in an opening lap melee at the first corner and limped home to a 19th placed finish, nearly a minute behind the race-winning Whincup.
The man who should have been a factor in many people’s eyes was Alex Davison, who started from his first-ever pole position. The younger of the Davison brothers – his brother Will had a test with the Minardi F1 team in 2004 – led half the race and was running in second place behind Whincup when an electrical problem struck, forcing him to retire from one of his strongest V8 races ever.
In the Championship stakes, the win for Whincup has seen him trim the points deficit to the Championship-leading Courtney from 114 points to 57. Lowndes hold onto third place – almost 250 points behind the leading duo, and the ever-impressive van Gisbergen is in fourth place and trailing Lowndes by just 40 points.
Race 1 Final Classification:
[Original image via ABC Australia]