Nancy Knapp Schilke, V8 Supercars Correspondent
Whincup earns 3rd title, Lowndes ends 2nd and Winterbottom wins for 3rd in final points
Jamie Whincup currently is celebrating his 2011 V8 Supercars Australia Championship. It is his third series title over the past four years. James Courtney took the crown last year in another close battle which, like today, ended on the Homebush circuit on the streets of Sydney, Australia.
"It's been such a long year and a long week to be honest. (This) probably won't sink in until the week later," said Whincup. "It was great to see my dad there at end of the race, and obviously the whole team- we've gone through thick and thin."
The #88 TeamVodafone Holden Commodore driver hung on to nail down the title despite the rain and the final restart with just two laps to be completed. All Whincup wanted was to maintain his position at that point and did not want to be involved in any contact in the final laps. He finished eighth.
To finally get there is an unbelievable feeling.
"I've never driven so soft before just trying to get clean air and stay out of the carnage! To finally get there is an unbelievable feeling,” added the champion.
Indeed it was a drama filled race which is, at times, typical of the close racing in the series.
Craig Lowndes in the #888 TeamVodafone Commodore was Whincup’s only rival in the chase for the championship. Lowndes did all he could to take the victory and hope for the best. Lowndes finished second to Mark Winterbottom in his Ford Falcon. The win allowed “Frosty” to take third in the final standings this year.
There are only two other drivers who have earned three championships in the tightly-contested Australian series: Lowndes and the late Peter Brock. While Lowndes missed his fourth crown today by a mere 35 points, he said, "It was one of those moments today, it was all about not holding back and we had hell of race," said Lowndes. "Credit has to go to Jamie, he's done everything right, and to all our guys - what a year!"
It will be a season finale to remember with the top two drivers from the same team and with no team orders, they were able to push to the limit for the title fight. At the same time, there was a three way battle behind them for third in points. Driving his #5 Falcon for the Ford Performance Racing team, Winterbottom held off his two rivals: Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander. Both finished ahead of “Frosty” in Saturday’s race with Tander (Toll Holden Racing Team) and van Gisbergen (Stone Brothers Racing – Ford) on yesterday’s podium. Today Winterbottom shut them out of third in the drivers’ championship.
After celebrating his victory today, Winterbottom said, "It's a great effort by the boys, we've really turned this season around. "This is a big event for us, Sydney is my childhood home and I'm absolutely wrapt."
After Will Davison landed his second pole this weekend, the rain came which made for a very wet track and a wet tire race start. However the rain had let up just prior to the warm up lap and the teams and drivers could dive in for slicks but would lose their grid positions. Winterbottom was one who elected to dive in for slicks, along with van Gisbergen and most of the field. That left the front row starters Davison and Whincup on the wets. As were Lowndes, Rick Kelly and a few others as the lights went out for the standing start.
Davison had a great start and was leading the field as they headed into the first turn. Lowndes grabbed second followed by the pack of cars who stayed on the wets prior to the more than half the field existing pit lane with slicks on. It was not a surprise to see cars spinning and going off track. Kelly was one of the first followed others and at the same time, light rain became a factor.
While the drivers battled it out on track – the teams had to quickly make logistic changes as to pit window for fuel and new tires. In the end only 15 drivers still were on the lead lap when the checkered flag was shown.
TeamVodafone closes out their year with their first one-two driver championship finish, the teams title plus the manufacturer championship for Holden.
The Ford and the Holden drivers will be driving the current V8 Supercars next year and no doubt again the two top manufacturers will compete for the championships. Whincup has taken titles for both manufacturers and becomes only the second driver in the history of the series to do so.
The new generation car will be ready for the 2013 season but it will not be a dramatic change as the V8 engines will still power the rear-wheel drive cars. They will look basically the same and the competition will remain close with perhaps more speed. The chassis now are very similar which leads to the reason for the next generation car. The series will have what they refer to as a “control chassis” which will allow cost control plus the opportunities for other manufacturers to enter the V8 Supercars Australia series.
See also V8 Supercars race 1 story