In his exclusive driver column, the Supercars champ talks about an overdue breakthrough at Winton, and pays tribute to Craig Lowndes.
It’d been a while since we last won a race, so it was good to be back on that top step again at Winton. The team had been working really hard and we hadn’t managed to get that high of the wins at Clipsal back again, so it felt like we were a bit overdue.
Getting the win for me was only part of what made Winton such a good weekend – having (teammate) Jamie (Whincup) up there in a 1-2 was awesome, because Winton has been a bit of a nightmare for the team ever since the Car of the Future came in. For me, it was one of the circuits I really set my mind to try to win at this year because I’d never won there before, so to tick both of those off on the one day was cool. The team used to be really strong there, but the win on Sunday was the first time Triple Eight had won there since 2012, and there’s probably no other track where they’ve had to wait that long between wins. So, a good way to break two hoodoos at once.
Winton has definitely grown on me as a track since they resurfaced it and we’re not as limited with grip as we once were – it could be a frustrating place before that. This year, it was awesome because if felt like we weren’t limited by tyres or the surface and we could push on. We didn’t need to play it conservative, you could just concentrate on driving what you had beneath you. You could push the car, manipulate it a bit and push super-hard. So much better than just cruising around.
Sunday’s race was pretty much flat-out the whole way through the 67 laps, and I was pretty stuffed afterwards, there wasn’t a lot of time to rest, which is what you want. In Perth it was super-hot and it felt like we were cruising, not driving hard at all. I really like it when there’s more chance to push harder and for as long as we can.
With a high-grip circuit like Winton, we’re definitely more competitive as a team – the question-mark now is on the other tracks where maybe the grip isn’t as good. We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure we’re better at tracks like Perth and Phillip Island, and there’ll be others too coming up where the grip isn’t as great. We definitely made a step forward at Winton though, that’s the most convincing and competitive we’ve been since Adelaide, so now the challenge for us is to keep it going.
Qualifying is where we need to get better – the Team Penske guys seem to have better one-lap pace than us at the moment – so we’re making it harder for ourselves in the races. We need to get a bit better at making the tyres work faster for us in qualifying, that’s where they have their edge over us at the moment. Saying that, it’s not the end of the world, the second row … but that’s something we have to work on.
Being in a fight with the Penske boys this year is a bit different than the end of last year when it was me versus Jamie, so there’s pressure from above with ‘RD’ (Roland Dane) and ‘Dutto’ (Mark Dutton) for all of us, and it’s been good to see how the team has rallied and stepped up to that challenge. The pressure is on for sure, but it’s good to see how we’ve responded to that.
Me personally, I was able to be really consistent last year, which was the main reason I was able to win the championship. This year has been a bit different – I’ve won four races which is more than anyone else, but they’re the only podiums I’ve got so far, and that’s why I’m fourth in the championship. Good and bad news, I guess. Why the inconsistency? Half of it has been our own fault, and half has been a few silly penalties and things like that the series has mucked up, but we need to make the most of when the car is really good. Sure, I won at Winton on Sunday, but the car felt really good on Saturday as well and we only finished eighth, and that kind of thing hurts you in the long run.
The next few weeks are going to be a bit weird for someone who wants to be driving and racing as much as I do – there’s not a lot of it. We have Darwincoming up in the middle of June but that’s it for a while with Supercars, and I’m off to Watkins Glen in early July, but that’s about it. A bit different to how hectic it was last year, which is what I prefer to be honest. I’m not a big fan of it being quiet or boring! I’ll get back to New Zealand a few times, maybe go snowboarding, but there’s nothing else locked away on the driving front as yet which is a bit frustrating, and it’s not from lack of trying either.
Before I finish, what about Craig Lowndes staying in Supercars for another two years? Seems like he’s never going to stop, does it? He’s a pleasure to have around and he’s a hero to a lot of us drivers, so for me, to be able to work alongside him for the last two years has been awesome. He’s such a major part of our team on-track and off, and for me to be able to keep bouncing ideas off someone with the huge knowledge he has, it’s great that’s he’s staying around. He’s a guy who just loves going racing and the racing life, and that’s why he’s as popular with everyone as he is.
Catch you next time.
Shane was speaking to Red Bull Australia motorsport editor Matthew Clayton.