Eric Thompson: On the track with Jamie Whincup

By Eric Thompson

Pukekohe's new curves add plenty more race thrills

It's not often you get a chance to ride in a Bathurst 1000 winning V8 Supercar with the defending champion at the wheel.

Driven leaped at the chance to be hurled around the revamped Pukekohe circuit in Casey Stoner's Development Series car (Craig Lowndes' old model now that the 2013 Car Of The Future has been introduced) in the hands of Jamie Whincup.

From the outside, these V8s may look like a distant cousin of the road-going model, but inside it's a different ball game.

The dash is reminiscent of an early Nasa workstation, with big switches and even bigger lights.

Modern technology is clearly evident in the form of the high-tech rev counter and multi-function display that allows the driver to scroll through everything from lap times to brake-bias. As for the rest of the interior, you might as well be in a prison cell: all bars and bare metal. Mind you, the seat is nice and snug.

The Red Bull Racing Australia car started with a series of clicks, whirs, and clunks then a resounding bang as the engine roared into life. If you can imagine a bucket of nuts and bolts being put into a mechanical paint mixer you wouldn't be far off. Throw in the whine of straight-cut gears, limited slip diffs, no soundproofing and you get the idea.

Accelerating towards turn one, the noise doesn't get any quieter, but seems to smooth out. Loud, but sort of pleasant, making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck.

As we get up to speed through turn one and head towards the "esses" my body is thrown from side to side with the G-forces. As we exit the right-hander on to the back straight my head is slammed back into the headrest.

Just as I start to appreciate how stable the car is at high speed, halfway down the back straight I'm thrown hard against the harness. If I had eaten anything it would now be on the inside of the windscreen. As it is, I feel as if I've been eviscerated. We've just gone from about 250km/h to around 75km/h in about 100m.

I'd forgotten a new set of corners had been added to the track. We flick right, left, then right again back onto the old circuit. That addition is going to make for some interesting braking and passing duels. I was just trying to keep my eyes pointing in the same direction.

Into the hairpin and then it's flat on the gas as we weave up towards the mountain with the rear end moving around like it was doing a tango. The car gets pretty light up over the crest of the hill and the G forces have the helmet wedged tight against the roll cage.

I reckon the passengers in a V8 Supercar wear a helmet to avoid concussion. There is no way mere mortals have enough neck muscle strength to hold their head still and mine was being pinged around the inside like a crazy ball.

Watching Whincup at work inside his office, rather than from the stands, is something truly amazing. His hands are never still and his feet are all over the pedals like he's doing the Bossa Nova or something.

He even kindly took me through the experience of leaving the track. He was too hot going into the esses, getting out of shape shooting up the curb, across the grass and then bouncing back onto the track again. Whincup did this without a blink of an eye, never really lifting off, as if it was an everyday experience.

I asked him afterwards if we were going for it. "The tyres are pretty much gone but we were pushing it pretty much on the limit," said Whincup.

Well, that explains a fair bit - gee, that was a hell of a ride and a one-off experience.


- Hamilton News

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