A fired up Jamie Whincup will go all-out to win this weekend’s Castrol Gold Coast 600, but it will be his new Red Bull Racing team-mate Shane van Gisbergen who will be crowned Virgin Australia Supercars Champion by the end of the season.
That’s the expert view of Supercars superstar Craig Lowndes, who as the third member of Triple Eight Race Engineering’s VASC attack works with both Red Bull drivers and understands how they are preparing to fight out the title.
Van Gisbergen leads Whincup in the title chase by 139 points with 900 points up for grabs over the final three events, including this weekend’s outing on the spectacular Gold Coast street circuit.
Lowndes is still in with a theoretical shot at the championship himself but plays down his chances.
He was Whincup’s team-mate for 10 years from 2006 to 2015, a time in which Whincup won six championships and Lowndes finished second five times (three of them behind Whincup).
“There’s no doubt it will be battle, Jamie won’t give up for anything,” Lowndes said. “At Bathurst he was going to win it or bin it and you saw the outcome of that.
“And he still has that same mentality going into this weekend. He is desperate and he wants to close the gap to Shane, but he also wants to take the lead of the championship.
“He is very focussed, there is no doubt about that.
“But so is Shane, you look at him, he is very relaxed, he is very confident in the sense of where he is at with the car and the team. So for both of them it’s going to go head-to-head.”
And Lowndes says that van Gisbergen should eventually prevail, to claim his first Supercars drivers’ championship.
“I think Shane will probably pull it off. He is in a good position, it’s always better to be in front than chasing – I know all about that side of it.
“The good thing for Shane is he is still aggressive, he hasn’t changed his style, he hasn’t thought about the championship in the sense of ‘I will just finish second here or third here’, he’s going for the win.
“He is almost one of those silent assassins. You watch him work, he absorbs everything, he takes everything in, then he puts the helmet on and does the business.
“So yes, he can be scary at times.”
Lowndes predicted the robust culture at Red Bull Racing would cope with a head-to-head battle for the championship, but admitted there would be tense times.
“There is no doubt there will be argy-bargy because as much as the drivers want to win, so the mechanics want to see their drivers win.
“There will be internal bickering and a little bit of niggling, but it will all be in good humour, it won’t be in the sense of trying to stitch anyone up.
“Each team will want their driver to win so everyone will put their best foot forward and see what happens.
“It will be interesting as we get out of this weekend and go into New Zealand, both Jamie and Shane are extremely quick there – same as here – and you go to Homebush and they have been extremely quick there.
“It’s almost going to be a battle of the Titans because they are both in good form, they are both in good cars and they just happen to be in the same team.”
Lowndes is 319 points behind van Gisbergen leading into today’s 300km race.
“It is going to be hard for me to win the championship from where we are sitting right now,” Lowndes said.
“Mathematically it’s not out of the question but it’s a long shot for me now.”