The seven-time Supercars champ looks to get Holden on the board at a circuit where a trip over Bass Strait has traditionally led to success.
By Matthew Clayton on redbull.com
Eyes forward looking at what’s coming rather than back at what has already happened; it’s good advice for anyone driving a Supercar, but on a broader level, it’s a mantra Jamie Whincup is adamant about following.
Yes, he knows that all six races in the new Supercars season have been won by the all-new Ford Mustang; yes, he knows that podium finishes for Holden drivers per se have been hard to come by, the Mustang galloping to 12 of the 18 rostrum spots available so far. But that’s all in the past, and as Whincup prepares to head to one of his happiest hunting grounds at Symmons Plains in Tasmania next week, the present shows that he’s right in the championship mix. At the shortest track on the calendar, it’s time for the seven-time series champ to keep playing the long game.
It’s been a so-so start for anyone not named Scott McLaughlin in this year’s title chase, with the reigning champ winning five of the six races to date. But Whincup, as he does, has hung tough, and a pair of podium finishes at Albert Park for the Melbourne 400, allied with McLaughlin’s bizarre non-score when he clashed with fellow Mustang front-row starter Cam Waters on the formation lap to the grid for Race 5 of the season, has Whincup just 31 points off the series lead heading to Tassie.
“We didn’t have the fastest cars by a long shot, but we worked as a team to do everything we could to get the best results possible,” Whincup said of the Red Bull Holden Racing Team at Albert Park, where a third place in Race 6 was his 200th Supercars podium.
“With Adelaide (where he finished second in the first race of the year), did we maximise it? No, but we were happy in some ways to come out second and third in the championship (with teammate Shane van Gisbergen) after round one. It’s not like it was all doom and gloom. There’s one guy who left there having done a better job than us and hats off to Scotty, they came strong. But there’s 90-odd per cent of the year still to go for us.”
Whincup’s maths might be slightly off, but we take his points as he’s continued to collect his, and he’s expecting the team’s fortunes to change as it gets to grips with a rule tweak over the off-season that has been a game-changer. Writing for redbull.com ahead of the Adelaide 500, recently-retired (from full-time driving duties, anyway) Triple Eight star Craig Lowndes said he felt the change to cars having to run a single spring rather than a combination spring this year would “definitely change the philosophy of the teams and the set-ups for the drivers, and it’s taken away some of the advantage that a Triple Eight or Team Penske might have had.” The latter seem to be on top of it if the results so far are any indication, but J-Dub says his old (and ‘new’, for this year’s enduros) teammate is spot-on, while acknowledging RBHRT “understand we have a lot of work to do”.
“With the twin spring or the combination spring as ‘Lowndesy’ says, you had the best of both worlds,” he says, searching for the right words to explain the impact of the shift to the everyman.
“Before, you could have a car that was really soft in the front to help the turn-in to the corner, and then when you got on the power, the rear would go down with the soft spring and we’d drive off the corner. With a single or linear spring, you can’t have that best of both worlds; you have to decide if you want a car with really good turn and not so good on the drive, or the other way around. You theoretically can have a happy medium somewhere in between, but in some ways that’s a no-mans’ land, because then you don’t have a strength.
“It’s a simplification to the set-up which means all cars will become more even, which in some ways might lead to better racing. But for us, if the car isn’t as good, we have to work out where we want that strength to be. The real stop-go tracks were where the twin spring worked so well, the street tracks with a lot of slow corners. The long-loaded flat corners, it won’t make a difference.”
What is different for J-Dub this year is that this, his 19th full-time Supercars season, is the first one where he’s (sort of) been both employer and employee. Last October, the 36-year-old bought a 15 per cent ownership stake in Triple Eight Race Engineering, a move that signals a desire to learn more about life beyond the steering wheel and fast-track his education in the business of the sport while still focusing on the driving side.
“It makes you lift your eyes a bit more,” he admits of his new role with T8.
“I find I look around more at how the teams are run, what’s going on with TV, Supercars itself, the overall direction – it’s made me think a lot more outside of my own backyard and just driving a car around in circles, which is a good thing.
“The main reason I bought into Triple Eight is so I can continue with racing for a long time to come. Most athletes, they hang up their footy boots or helmet and that’s the end, full stop. I want to be involved in a racing team until I’m 60 years old. It’s a natural progression, and that’s something that motivates me.
“On top of that, to be surrounded by people like Roland (Dane), Paul Dumbrell and Tim Miles as the other directors, they’re guys who have done it and done it well for a very long time. They’re all such good operators in their own right. If I can learn from those guys, the value of my investment is greater. Spending time around good people is so invaluable.”
The return on that investment, both personally and professionally, won’t be realised for Whincup for some time yet; more immediately, the task at hand is to pump the brakes on the merry march of the Ford hordes in what will be the first of back-to-back race meetings in April, Symmons Plains preceding Phillip Island in a frantic fortnight.
Whincup’s record in Tassie is imposing – he’s won there 12 times, more than any other driver – and if enjoying where you work is a harbinger of success, J-Dub should be primed for a prominent weekend.
“I’m not even sure what it is about that place that works for me, but it clearly has over the years,” he says of Symmons Plains.
“Being there is a weekend I enjoy because the people always come out, and they’re good proper racing people. The track, where it’s super-short and it’s a place where every mistake is so costly, the stakes are high. Any mistakes are punished with you being way down the grid because of the nature of it and how close the field always is.
“It’s a different place, and it’s one I’m glad is on our calendar because there’s nothing really like it.”