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Tough weekend in Winton but championship lead maintained

RED BULL Racing Australia duo Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes will head into the all-important endurance season one-two in the championship after surviving a brutal V8 Supercars round at Winton Raceway.

After having a certain podium position robbed on Saturday courtesy of an uncharacteristic tail shaft fault, championship leader Whincup’s weekend didn’t get any better on Sunday, the reigning champion victim of first-corner carnage after qualifying mid-pack in race one.

It resulted in the No.1 driver’s second DNF from as many starts, his only points from the weekend coming with a 13th-placed finish in the afternoon’s race three.

“When you start at the back you are vulnerable for first corner incidents and that’s exactly what happened,” Whincup said.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good weekend for us and one I’m sure we’d all rather forget. It was always going to be a tough day after qualifying – we just didn’t have any pace. We were only four tenths off but had no pace. And that was the issue.

“Championship-wise you need to finish races and to finish races you have to at least qualify somewhere within the vicinity of the front. We’ve lost massive championship points this weekend and we may be fighting to get the lead back come the enduros.”

Team-mate Craig Lowndes seemed short of luck too, grip problems plaguing both qualifying sessions before he struck a balance pre-race to finish 12th and 10th in races two and three respectively. While Ford’s Will Davison and Mark Winterbottom narrowed the gap to the Red Bull drivers, the silver lining for Lowndes is that he has crept closer to the championship lead. Whincup now leads the championship on 1847 points from Lowndes (1800) and Davison (1792).

“We had much better race speed today and the car was working much better, we just weren’t able to capitalise on it until after qualifying really,” Lowndes said.

“In clear air we were among the quickest on track, but it’s a difficult place to pass. We still got some points so to maintain one-two in the championship after the weekend we’ve had I’m pretty happy. Bring on the enduros!”

Meanwhile, two-time MotoGP champion Casey Stoner leaves Winton with reason to smile. Despite being horribly unlucky on Saturday and forced to start from the back of the grid in race two, Stoner made up 12 positions to finish 22nd before putting on a true showcase of his ability in race three to claim 14 Positions and finish 16th after starting from 30th.

“Today’s races were a welcome change and I think we could’ve made up more positions if we weren’t held up. There were a few guys running with some OK pace so it was a bit more difficult to pass them.

“Overall, it was an OK result but disappointing for me because we should be running further up the front – but number one, I’ve got to qualify well and number two, I need to survive the first couple laps of a race without getting spun or crashed. It’s making things tricky.”

Stoner’s next race will be at Bathurst in six weeks’ time when he contests the penultimate round of the Dunlop Development Series championship.

“I’m really looking forward to driving one of these cars around Bathurst,” said Stoner, who drove a production Commodore courtesy of V8 Race around the mountain earlier this year.

“My last taste of it wasn’t in as quite a good a machine as this so I’m really looking forward to some high-speed corners, walls and things like that that really make your heart pump.

“Having had a little drive in a production car at Bathurst earlier in the year I now know which way the track goes and the lumps and bumps and things like that. But braking points, gears, and everything like that is going to be completely different. We’ll have to learn that but it has given us a little bit more of an insight into what to expect.

“Hopefully we’ll get some longer races and more time in the car, too.”

The next round of the V8 Supercars championship will be at Sandown for the first of three endurance races from September 13.