He might no longer be in the hunt for the V8 Supercars Championship crown, but that hasn’t stopped Jamie Whincup from putting in another dominant performance to claim victory in the 200-kilometre Feature Race of the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
The six-time series champion was unchallenged throughout the 69-lap race, finishing four seconds clear of Red Bull Racing teammate Craig Lowndes, who put in a sterling recovery drive after his car was extensively rebuilt overnight following his tyre failure in Saturday’s second Sprint Race.
Being unable to ascertain the reason for Lowndes’ left-rear failure while leading that race, Dunlop decreed a minimum starting tyre pressure of 18psi and stipulated that the entire field must start the race on the Soft tyres, which had never previously been run at the high-speed circuit until qualifying. This tyre set could be run for no more than the first half-dozen laps and then could not be re-used later in the race, if ruled.
That effectively locked any hopes of major strategic gambles in the race, although the field could still vary their fuel loads across a traditional two-stop race to try and undercut their rivals.
His cause was helped by another poor race for series leader Mark Winterbottom, although this time it wasn’t the Prodrive Racing driver’s doing. Having qualified on the lower-half of the top-ten, ‘Frosty’ was always at risk of getting involved in someone else’s drama in the opening laps.
So it turned out to be. On Lap 2, he was turned around at the hairpin by BJR Holden’s Jason Bright, who had been hit from behind by the HRT Commodore of James Courtney. Winterbottom had to wait until the entire field had scrambled around him before he could rejoin in last place.
He bravely fought his way back through the field – surviving fierce battles with Garth Tander and Dale Wood – to finish in eleventh place. With Lowndes finishing a fine second and Winterbottom’s Prodrive stablemate David Reynolds finishing fourth, the points’ deficit was trimmed to 239 points to Reynolds, with Lowndes one point further back. There are a maximum of 600 points up for grabs across the two remaining rounds at Phillip Island and Sydney Motorsport Park.
The first cycle of pit stops came at Lap 8 when Nick Percat’s LDM Holden was spun into retirement by Rick Kelly’s Nissan. The remaining runners all peeled into the pit lane to get rid of their Soft tyres, creating quite the traffic jam as many drivers were forced to double-stack or park in the ‘slow’ lane waiting to be serviced by their crews.
Pole-sitter Scott McLaughlin and David Reynolds had held second and third prior to the stops, but Reynolds was able to rejoin in front of the New Zealander thanks to a quicker pit stop.
Similarly, Craig Lowndes had worked his way to eighth place from tenth on the grid, but ran ninth after the first pit stops thanks to being delayed queuing behind Whincup.
Lowndes managed to climb up to sixth place by his second and final stop on Lap 30, and needing to take on less fuel than his rivals, his stop was shorter and so he vaulted to second place.
A similar fuel tactic helped the impressive Scott Pye jump to third in his DJR Team Penske Ford, and he held the position until the chequered flag to deliver the team’s best result of the season with team co-owner Roger Penske making a rare visit to Australia to watch the trackside action.
Reynolds finished in fourth place to close out a solid weekend, with Nissan’s Michael Caruso and Volvo’s Scott McLaughlin rounding out the top six ahead of Fabian Coulthard and Lee Holdsworth.
The penultimate round of the 2015 championship season is the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint on 21-22 November.
|2015 V8 Supercars ITM 500 Auckland – Race 30 Top-10 Finishers (69 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Jamie Whincup||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||1:18:57.1973|
|2.||Craig Lowndes||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||+ 4.064|
|3.||Scott Pye||DJR Team Penske||+ 10.807|
|4.||David Reynolds||The Bottle-O Racing Team||+ 12.701|
|5.||Michael Caruso||Erebus Motorsport V8||+ 13.121|
|6.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 17.084|
|7.||Fabian Coulthard||Brad Jones Racing||+ 22.339|
|8.||Lee Holdsworth||Walkinshaw Performance||+ 27.363|
|9.||Shane van Gisbergen||TEKNO Autosports||+ 34.968|
|10.||Garth Tander||Holden Racing Team||+ 39.727|
Image via V8 Supercars Championship