Jamie Whincup declared Scott McLaughlin a worthy three-time Supercars champion, amid disappointment that the title fight is over before the Bathurst finale.
McLaughlin put the title beyond doubt with second place in the final race at the OTR SuperSprint at The Bend, now holding a 305-point lead with 300 available for the win at Bathurst.
Whincup had closed the margin to 143 points ahead of The Bend double-header, but a combination of the Shell Mustang’s speed and a series of mishaps blew out the deficit.
They included finishes of 18th and 17th in last weekend’s Bend event, following a clash with McLaughlin and a pitstop issue, and another bungled pitstop today.
Offering no excuses, Whincup said McLaughlin and his Shell V-Power Racing team “certainly deserve the three-peat”, having also taken the 2018 and ’19 titles.
“I’ve enjoyed the season. Sport is about the variabilities and curveballs that get thrown at you,” seven-time champion Whincup continued.
“It’s who deals with those curveballs the best and adapts to those conditions. From a sporting point of view this year has been great.
“We haven’t known what tracks we’re going to, the formats have changed, it’s just been turned on its head.
“I’ve always said whoever wins the championship is certainly going to deserve it, one way or another.
“Scotty and his crew have been the cream for a couple of years and have shown this year that with all the variabilities, they’ve still come out on top.
“It’s what it should be. They who work the hardest, bring the best car to the track and do a good job at the track as well should get the biggest prize of the year.”
The Red Bull Holden Racing Team had come out of the blocks firing in the Adelaide season-opener in February, where Whincup and van Gisbergen split the poles and Whincup won the Saturday race.
Whincup and van Gisbergen then took another pole each on Thursday at Albert Park, before the season was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following the resumption of racing in June, Whincup and van Gisbergen have shown flashes of speed – winning three races apiece from 24 attempts – but lacked consistency.
“We genuinely had quite good pace at Adelaide and the Grand Prix,” said Whincup when asked about the season’s apparent turning point.
“We pushed hard to try and improve the car’s pace as the year went on, made some gains, made some losses as well.
“We certainly weren’t in a position where we were just going to run around second, we did everything we could.
“That showed with a couple of poor results while we were experimenting with things.
“There’s not much more I can really explain about that. We gave it all we had and just weren’t good enough.”