Inside the Winton Houdini act no one saw coming

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 26/05/2021
  • By James Pavey, Pics by AN1 Images

Jamie Whincup has won four races at Winton Motor Raceway, with his latter three coming from grid slots of second, third and second.

His first, however, remains a career outlier for the driver who has won a record 123 races.

Whincup’s extraordinary victory from 20th on the grid in the 2007 Winton opener is the only instance the driver has won from outside the top 10.

The seven-time champion, who will make his final full-time appearance at Winton this weekend, has an extraordinary knack of converting high grid spots.

WATCH: SEVEN HIGHS AND LOWS FROM WINTON

Of his record 123 wins, Whincup has won 98 times after starting from the first two rows of the grid.

He has won from pole position 54 times, but never at Winton; his first pole, on Sunday in 2009, resulted in a win for Craig Lowndes. Lowndes repeated the feat on the Sunday in 2012.

In the 2013 opener, pole man Whincup retired with a mechanical issue, handing a one-two finish to the Nissans of James Moffat and Michael Caruso.

14 years ago, Whincup, still a largely unproven talent despite his Adelaide and Bathurst wins a year earlier, had it all to do in the wet at Winton.

However, a combination of a clever pit strategy and smart wet weather driving saw leap from the 10th row to grab Ford’s first win of the 2007 season, in its ninth race.

Whincup en route to Saturday victory

Whincup pitted early and made up ground as his rivals floundered in the trying conditions, and took the lead on lap 27 of 40.

After the race, he admitted it seemed an “educated guess” at the time, but one which rewarded his team and himself in an historic day.

"We struggled a little bit in qualifying and our car wasn't that quick in the dry," Whincup said.

"To our advantage it started to rain, we got out there and the car was quick.

"We made an educated guess on the strategy and pit early. We did that, got out and were surprisingly quick.

"We got a lucky one in those conditions. You have got to make a call and once you are out there you are out there.

"I knew there were some cars coming through on slicks but there's not much you can do about that. You can't plan this one, we fell into this one.”

Whincup celebrates round victory

Whincup wasn’t alone in the strategy game; Steven Richards finished second after starting from 17th, having made a late stop.

Then aged just 24, Whincup mastered the conditions, which helped him return on Sunday to claim overall round honours.

It negated the Winton trend of winning from the front; in 32 visits between 1985 and 2019, 43 of 66 Winton race winners have started from the front row.

27 of 66 winners have come from pole position.

Only three times has the winner come from 10th or lower; George Fury in 1989, Cameron McConville in 2004, and Whincup in 2007.

Only five times has Whincup won from eighth or lower, four of them coming at Townsville.

Although the Toll Commodore of Garth Tander was too quick for him in both Sunday races, Whincup's win on Saturday, when Tander finished fourth, gave him enough of a margin to win the round by a single point.

For the second time in 2007, Tander had won two races on a weekend, yet failed to win the round, missing out at Pukekohe a month earlier.

Had he not been pushed off the track by Todd Kelly while leading on Saturday, Tander would likely have swept the round.

Whincup started from grid slot one for the first Sunday race; Tander was the pace-setter, like he was later in the day, but clever strategy again kept Whincup in the hunt.

For Whincup, who would fall short by two points to Tander in the title decider at Phillip Island, the round honours were proof he could battle with the quick Toll Holdens.

"We had a slow start to the weekend but once the rain came we were very quick in the wet,” he said.

"The gamble with setup in race three worked well and we had good balance throughout the race. In fact, the car was as fast at the end as it was at the start.

“No one's unbeatable, everybody bleeds… we will race these guys and the rest of the field for the next 10 rounds.

"We are making a massive step up. We are miles ahead of where we were last year. We just didn't have the pace early but we are improving on that. The results hopefully should start to come.”

They did; Whincup won the Sandown and Bathurst enduros with Lowndes, before taking the series lead with a round win at Symmons Plains, where he has won a record 12 races.

Tander had the last laugh with the title, but he would only add one more Winton win to his list, in the 2008 finale.

It was enough, however, for Tander to win the round on countback, finishing equal on points for the round with fellow winners Whincup and Will Davison.

Whincup added wins in 2011 and 2012 to take his Winton tally to four, but hasn’t won since.

Can he score a fifth this weekend to join two Ford legends at the top?

The Repco Supercars Championship field will return to Victoria for the Winton SuperSprint across May 28-30. Tickets are available here.

The event will be broadcast live on Foxtel and will be streamed on Kayo with highlights on 7 and 7 Plus. Check out the weekend schedule here.

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