His hopes of claiming an unprecedented seventh V8 Supercars Championship title may have evaporated in the mid-season, but that hasn’t stopped Jamie Whincup’s strong run of form in the closing stages of the 2015 campaign thanks to victory in Saturday’s opening race of the Sydney 500 finale.
The Red Bull Racing driver claimed victory from fifth on the grid after overtaking early race leader Shane van Gisbergen during the compulsory pit stops, and from that point was never seriously threatened despite the New Zealander’s best efforts.
With his sole championship rival Craig Lowndes starting from last place on the grid thanks to his crash in qualifying, pole-sitter and championship leader Mark Winterbottom could afford to take a conservative approach knowing that his rival was the one who had to take the risks to keep his slim title hopes alive.
Winterbottom launched his Prodrive Racing Ford off the line beautifully, holding the lead from an aggressive van Gisbergen into the first corner. Behind them there was some biff and barge, with James Moffat coming off worst of all in the scrum for Turn 1, damaging his Nissan’s steering after an overly optimistic lunge up the inside into the left-hand turn.
Realising that van Gisbergen was looking particularly racy, Winterbottom let the TEKNO Autosports driver into the lead early on and ultimately slipped to fifth place over the course of the race.
Van Gisbergen lost the effective lead when his pit stop proved slower than Whincup’s and he spent the rest of his race trying to close and find a way by the six-time champion to no avail.
Lowndes ran a contra-strategy, staying out long to try and gain track position before making his sole pit stop. Finishing 15th helped prolong the title fight for at least another race, but his championship aspirations look all but over given Winterbottom needs to no worse than 20th in Saturday’s second race to sew up the fight.
The final podium spot went to Brad Jones Racing’s Jason Bright, who claimed just his second rostrum visit in what has been a particularly miserable season for the former series champion. He held off HRT’s James Courtney by 1.3 seconds at the flag.
Tim Slade made it five Holdens in the top-six in his swansong round for the Walkinshaw Racing stable, pushing Winterbottom hard in the closing stages of the race. Rick Kelly, Scott McLaughlin, David Reynolds and Fabian Coulthard completed the top ten finishers.
For the first time in the history of racing around the Homebush Bay street circuit, the race was devoid of any retirements of Safety Car interruptions.
|2015 V8 Supercars Coates Hire Sydney 500 – Race 34 Top-10 Finishers (37 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Jamie Whincup||Red Bull Racing / Triple 8||56:13.363|
|2.||Shane van Gisbergen||TEKNO Autosports||+ 1.086|
|3.||Jason Bright||Brad Jones Racing||+ 14.037|
|4.||James Courtney||Holden Racing Team||+ 15.360|
|5.||Mark Winterbottom||Prodrive Racing Australia||+ 22.507|
|6.||Tim Slade||Walkinshaw Racing||+ 22.975|
|7.||Rick Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 23.638|
|8.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 24.774|
|9.||David Reynolds||Rod Nash Racing||+ 25.475|
|10.||Fabian Coulthard||Brad Jones Racing||+ 28.188|
Image via Motorsport.com