Who's the biggest Championship threat?

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 23/08/2014
  • By V8 Supercars

We are at the ninth round of 14 and the V8 Supercars Championship is at its most intense. It's not just six drivers in contention for the title - but six separated by 300 points, which can be earned or lost in one race weekend.

We've seen three different leaders so far this season. Red Bull's Craig Lowndes took control early, before getting reeled in by Ford Pepsi Max Crew's Mark Winterbottom. Then, at the last round 'Frosty' was overtaken by the other Red Bull car of Jamie Whincup.

Whincup had dropped as low as seventh, but the five-time champ seems to have found another gear and could very well power on to the final chequered flag - just ask his rivals, heading into today's Sydney Motorsport Park 400.

On the cusp of the Pirtek Enduro Cup - when 300 points could be lost in an instant, or in heartbreaking cases, at the hands of a co-driver - v8supercars.com.au asked the top six who their single biggest threat is, what their own strengths are, and who will be the first to slip away out of contention.

The competitors had been kicking back, having a bit of fun cooking a barbecue in the park for fans - but the mood turned serious quickly when they had to name names.

While they all felt it was too close to call - "anyone can win, that's the good thing about our sport and the moment," Winterbottom said - the top six were good sports. One thing is for sure - they all have their eyes on the prize.

1. Jamie Whincup, Red Bull Racing Australia

Best Championship finish: Five-time Champion 2008, 09, 11, 12, 13.

Biggest threat: Craig Lowndes.
"I have a lot of respect for those guys (Winterbottom and Courtney), they do a very good job and they're going to be tough to beat, so pretty hard to put my finger on one, but I'm hoping it's my teammate."

Biggest personal strength: Pace.
"I'd like to think we can go out there and hang the car on the line for the longest, that's what it's all about... I don't like to be that consistency person that just keeps finishing races, I want to win as many as I can."

First competitor to drop out of contention: Whoever scores the least race wins.
"That's just as tough as who's going to be your biggest competition.I'm not going to come out and predict someone's going to drop away because they'll probably end up going on and winning the Championship.There's obviously that consistency thing that needs to be there, but for us and for the goodof the sport, the more races you can win the better."

2. Mark Winterbottom, Ford Pepsi Max Crew

Best Championship finish: Second, 2008.

Points to leader: 15.

Biggest threat: Jamie Whincup.
"You've got to chase the guy ahead - so until I get 15 points on him and get back in front of him, the rest don't really worry you until they jump you."

Biggest personal strength: Desperation and motivation to win.
"I'm just desperate. The desperation to win this thing is something that I know I've got. I'm motived, I've been trying so long to win this thing, so I'd do anything, run over anyone, do anything I have to do to win it."

First competitor to drop out of contention: Shane van Gisbergen.
"You have to look at the sixth guy, van Gisbergen, at the moment to probably be the first to drop off - but he could have a big run and take the lead come the enduros. You just can't pick anyone - it's pretty cruel, and that could be me."

3. Craig Lowndes, Red Bull Racing Australia

Best Championship finish: Three-time Champion,1996, 98, 99.

Points to leader: 162.

Biggest threat: Jamie Whincup and Mark Winterbottom.
"Frosty's shown some pretty consistent pace, Jamie's shown very good comeback pace - in the sense that he didn't start the season so well. So it's a little bit hard to try and define one of them."

Biggest personal strength: Has a history of performing well in the second part of the season.
"I think the second half of the Championship has always been my strong point. We've managed to survive so far - we had a great start to the Championship, we had a bit of a lull there, back to sixth, back up to third. For me it's a great opportunity now to keep focusing again and seeing where we can roll on, because definitely the long distance racing I'm looking forward to."

First competitor to drop out of contention: Fabian Coulthard or James Courtney.
"If you look at the six of us, Fabian's shown good pace but probably a little inconsistent - so we'll see what happens.

"Courtney has shown some good pace lately, but again HRT has been a little bit up and down. So it's a bit hard to know but those guys, probably, are the ones you'd look at as maybe the first to get away."

4. James Courtney, Holden Racing Team

Best Championship finish: 2010 Champion.

Points to leader: 192.

Biggest threat: Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes.
"There's five of us working (cooking the barbecue) and Whincup is just floating around the edges not doing anything!

"He's probably the guy everyone's chasing this weekend. Triple Eight's form has really been quite strong, so that's the guy we're all going to be chasing - him and Craig."

Biggest personal strength: He wants it more than the rest.
"I think I want it more than those guys, they're too polite to each other, saying 'after you', and praising each other - whereas I just want to get in there, get amongst it and win this thing. It's what HRT wants, we're so hungry, it's been so long since we've been in Championship contention. It's going to be a tough battle all the way to the end but we're here to throw the punches."

First competitor to drop out of contention: Mark Winterbottom.
"I think if you go off history the FPR guys tend to taper off either one end of the season or the other. They've had a bad couple of last rounds, not only at Ipswich but Townsville was pretty tough with them - so it'll be interesting to see if they can keep up with the rest of us through the enduro season and to the end of the year."

5. Fabian Coulthard, Lockwood Racing

Best Championship finish: Sixth, 2013.

Points to leader: 255.

Biggest threat: Jamie Whincup.
"I think you just have to go on recent form and say Jamie ... we've probably all come up with the same answer."

Biggest personal strength: Consistency.
"I think consistency. We've been there or thereabouts most rounds. We need to take the next step in car performance and try to get close to those guys. I'm pretty confident we've got things coming that will make that challenge a little bit easier."

First competitor to drop out of contention:Can't say until after enduros.
"We'd all like to think we'll all be there 'til the end, so I don't really know. The enduro season is the big decider for us. With 300 points on offer for each of those events, I think we'll see by then who's in the hunt and who's not."

6. Shane van Gisbergen, Team TEKNO VIP Petfoods

Best Championship finish: Fourth, 2011.

Points to leader: 258.

Biggest threat: No one specifically.
"It's pretty tight, the front two are ahead, but from third to sixth it's pretty close. Just staying in touch until the enduros is our goal ... not targeting anyone specifically."

Biggest personal strength: Enduro pairing, with former full-timer and team boss Jonathon Webb.
"We had a good test day, and we're trying to keep things simple as well. That's working for us, being consistent. But for the enduros, Webby is probably our biggest strength. I think we'll be pretty good."

First competitor to drop out of contention: He's hoping it's anybody else!
"Hopefully it's not us, hopefully we can have good enduros. The enduros are going to tell us who are in the hunt. I don't really know until after then, those races are pretty tough to fight. So we'll just see."

Who do you think will be the toughest competitor to beat? Who needs to step it up this weekend and throughout the Pirtek Enduro Cup?

Your guess is as good as any, with so many variables and so little time separating the elite talents in V8 Supercars.

Stay tuned to this weekend's Sydney Motorsport Park 400 to see who will head to the first of the long distance races with the Championship lead.

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