Despite a hit and run testing raid before the Woodstock Winton SuperSprint, Jamie Whincup has admitted he and the Red Bull team remain mystified by their inability to extract race-winning pace from their Holden Commodores at the country Victorian track.
Whincup and engineer David Cauchi joined Triple Eight Race Engineering customer Team 18 for its test at Winton two weeks ago, sharing the Preston Hire Racing Commodore VF with regular driver Lee Holdsworth.
But the knowledge gleaned from the test didn’t do Whincup, his Red Bull team-mate Shane van Gisbergen or Team Vortex’s Craig Lowndes much good.
Whincup qualified 9-8 for the two soft tyre races and then finished fifth and ninth, dropping from second to third in the championship in the process.
Van Gisbergen qualified 11-12, finished 9-4 in the races and stayed fifth in the drivers’ championship.
Lowndes qualified 14-3 and went 15-8 in the races, dropping from first to third in the championship as a result.
On Saturday the factory team’s chase for pace was underlined by the fact Holdsworth was the highest qualifier in a T8 car in qualifying, a fact he reminded absent team owner Roland Dane of in a post-session FOX SPORTS interview.
It is now four years since Triple Eight last won a race at Winton, having never claimed victory in the NewGen (Car of the Future) era.
Not even the new high-grip surface at the 3.0km track, which has the lowest speed average in the championship, helped them to break their drought.
“There are no excuses with the new surface,” Whincup told supercars.com. “We were up and down, we showed promise and then didn’t. All in all, there was not enough pace and you can’t do good things if you have got no pace.
“We were quick and we were quick at certain parts of qualifying, so we showed promise but we couldn’t piece it all together. It’s not like it (Winton) doesn’t suit our cars, if that was the case we wouldn’t be fast at times.
“It’s just the job we did. We didn’t do a good enough job.”
Whincup said the help extended to Charlie Schwerkolt’s privateer team pre-event had been beneficial but he claimed no knowledge of the stir his visit had caused.
“I didn’t hear about that,” Whincup insisted. “Car 18 wanted some help and we come down here and gave them some help and tried to set their car up.
“Of course it’s a good thing for us to drive on the track, and a good thing for them. That’s the game, that’s part of the game. It’s no secret, we didn’t secretly come here.
“We were asked by our customer to come and help them out and that’s what we did. It was a great thing for us to too because we got a bit of a feel for what the track is all about.”
Whincup will take part in category tyre testing and an official team test at Ipswich before the next championship event, the Darwin Triple Crown, on June 17-19. He had a poor outing at the Northern Territory track last year, which resulted in Cauchi being temporarily demoted to data engineer and team manager Mark Dutton stepping back in as his engineer.
There is no prospect of that happening this year, with Whincup competitive in the championship and describing their relationship as “going as strong as we have ever been”.
But Whincup admits he is frustrated by his inability to break through for another win since saluting in the very first championship race at the Clipsal 500 back in March.
“For me this part of the year is about trying to win races and we have only won one, so that’s disappointing,” he said.
“We have definitely under-performed. I don’t want to be ‘Mr Consistent’, I want to go out there and win races.
“So I am glad we are hanging in there with the pace we have had. But we have to improved our pace and that’s the be-all and end-all.”
Whincup was cautious in his assessment of T8’s new three-car structure, playing down any possible impact that might be having on his pace.
“It should be an advantage, but I am not sure whether it is or not. There is no detriment to the team with three cars. Maybe we could do a better job there, but as I say we are not any worse off.
“But I am not sure if we are any better off.”