It was a weekend of mixed fortunes for Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen in a manic Melbourne 400 meeting at the Grand Prix weekend.
By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com
Every cloud has a silver lining, right? The Australian Grand Prix weekend was a tough one on the whole for the Red Bull Holden Racing Team, with Shane van Gisbergen’s side of the garage more than happy to put it in the rear-view mirror by Sunday night. We’ll get back to SVG later, but teammate Jamie Whincup left Albert Park with a deserving and broad smile on his face after securing his 200th Supercars podium in the last of the weekend’s four races on Sunday and putting himself right back into title contention to boot.
With just 10 minutes of qualifying for each of the four races scheduled across the weekend, J-Dub says the preparation for the AGP event is “as gnarly as it gets” now it counts for championship points. But the seven-time champion rode the bumps and bruises beautifully across the four days of on-track action to finish two of them on the podium and three of four inside the top four, slicing his deficit to series leader Scott McLaughlin (Team Penske) to just 31 points after a weekend where the new Ford Mustang made it six victories from as many starts this season.
McLaughlin has five of those wins, but it was Saturday evening’s fifth race of the season, where the defending series champion clashed with Cam Waters on the formation lap to the grid and didn’t take the start, that helped the error-free Whincup get back into the picture on a weekend where, by his own admission, he didn’t have the raw pace to go with the number 17.
“We didn’t have the fastest cars by a long shot, but we worked as a team to do everything we could over the weekend to get the best results possible,” Whincup said on Sunday after wrapping up his weekend in Melbourne with a third-place finish.
“To finish second overall and third today, we take it and run with it and consider the Melbourne 400 a success. We understand there is a lot of work to do, but we will be more fired up to find further performance gains within the car and the team.
“Without a doubt the team has the same opinion that we will continue pushing hard to bridge the deficit and if we get there it will be a win for everyone; the competition will be stronger and we can give the cars in front a run for their money.”
Whincup is never one to look back at his racing stats while he’s still active in the sport, but did take pause to consider his podium milestone, a double century that features 113 race wins.
“It’s also a proud moment to rock up with 200 podiums,” he said.
“I have been working really hard in this category for a while. I don’t usually go for the numbers, but it’s really nice when they arrive.”
Speaking of nice, we reckon SVG’s first post-event beverage might have been the nicest part of a horror weekend where, if our combative Kiwi didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Fifth (for Races 3 and 6) was the best he could do in that “gnarly” quarter of qualifying sessions we mentioned earlier, while he had more drama in four races than you’d normally get in four seasons.
An engine failure saw him become an early spectator in Friday’s first race of the weekend, while he could only move one place forward from 11th on the grid in Saturday’s first race. Then things really went awry; Saturday’s evening race ended up with SVG on three wheels after car 97 shed its right rear at Turn 10, while on Sunday, a 15-second time penalty for a clash with Team Penske’s Fabian Coulthard on lap two saw him drop to 13th place, and he eventually finished 22nd.
From second in the championship coming into Albert Park, SVG fell to 11th overall after a weekend best consigned to the rubbish bin of history; the only good news was that there’s 26 races still to go to arrest that deficit …
“That was the end of a horror weekend on our side of the garage,” an exasperated SVG said on Sunday.
“I felt like a punching bag in that race. I started in fifth position and was hoping for a good start and clean race. I was supposed to then settle into the race to see if we could improve the car, but everyone else had other ideas. It’s a real shame finishing almost last, but we need to move on and be better.”
The next chance for SVG, J-Dub and the Holden hordes to do just that comes at Symmons Plains from April 5-7; Tasmania has been a happy hunting ground for Triple Eight over the years, which means optimism will be high as the series heads to the Apple Isle.
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