Jamie Whincup has roared right back into contention for the V8 Supercars Championship battle, after he claimed victory in both of today’s races at Hidden Valley Raceway.
Race 1 saw the reigning champion finish in front Red Bull Racing teammate and birthday boy Craig Lowndes. Shane Van Gisbergen claimed third to make it an all-Holden podium.
Whincup and Lowndes had the jump coming into Turn 1, pushing front-row starter Scott Mclaughlin back into third at the very start of the race.
Whincup steadily pulled away from the chasing pack, gaining a lead of 1.3s over Lowndes in 2nd. By the end of the fifth lap, the podium order had been sorted, with van Gisbergen demoting McLaughlin to claim third.
Van Gisbergen showed solid pace, matching that of Lowndes, who looked to be struggling to manage his tyre life as the race wore on. The veteran was forced to use every inch of the track to
fend off the Kiwi, right into the dying minutes of the race.
Further behind, the battle for fifth place heated up in the closing stages, with Garth Tander having to fend off a hard-charging Mark Winterbottom. Both drivers ran side by side out of the exit of Turn 1, with Tander managing to hold him off, right up to the finish line.
There was trouble brewing between Robert Dahlgren and Dale Wood, with both drivers nudging and bumping coming into each corner around the track, forcing Dahlgren off the track and which is more
than likely going to be reviewed by the stewards post race.
Dahlgren and Wood weren’t the only drivers bending panels, with Rick Kelly and Tim Slade pushing each other side-by-side on the track. Kelly also smacked Slade onto the dirt and caused some frustration for the Supercheap Auto Racing driver.
After 35 laps Jamie Whincup has claimed a more than dominant victory in Race 18 to put himself back into championship contention. With victory in Saturday’s two races, Whincup closed the gap to 165 points behind Mark Winterbottom who chose like most of the field to re use there tyres from race 1 for tomorrow’s 200km race.
With a spin of his wheels, points leader Mark Winterbottom was off to a very poor start, being overcome by Scott McLaughlin and Garth Tander, while it was again Jamie Whincup who got the jump on the field in the sprint towards the first turn of Race 18.
The lap 1 order was Whincup in first, Lowndes in second and Fabian Coulthard in third, but it wasn’t long until the race saw its first casuality: the Norton 360 Nissan driven by James Moffat was suffering from severe suspension issues, forcing him into the pits and retirement.
After a troubled opening race, Tim Slade was also off to a good start, picking up 5 positions within the first lap, significantly increasing his chances of a podium finish. His Holden stablemate James Courtney was looking every which way to get past Scott Mclaughlin, but the young Kiwi wasn’t giving up his position without a fight, blocking him on every stretch of the Hidden Valley track.
McLaughlin was eventually pushed back to sixth with Courtney and Tander finally finding their way past the young Volvo driver to demote him to sixth; meanwhile Lee Holdsworth was forced back to the pits with his Erebus AMG Mercedes smoking heavily coming into Turn 1.
Russell Ingall and the two Kelly brothers opted for an unusual strategy of reusing their Race 17 tyre sets in order to effectively give themselves another fresh set of rubber for Sunday’s 200-kilometre race. It did nothing for their performances in Race 18, but it might pay dividends on Sunday.
Images via Christian Hartung