Motorsport: V8 Supercars line up

By Eric Thompson

Defending champion Whincup attempts to become just second driver to win four titles in a row

Jamie Whincup will be chasing an unprecedented sixth title.

Picture / Edge Photographic
Jamie Whincup will be chasing an unprecedented sixth title. Picture / Edge Photographic

The V8 Supercars championship season starts this weekend, kicking off at Adelaide with five-time series champion Jamie Whincup lining himself up for an unprecedented sixth title.

The Victorian has won the last three titles on the trot and is now aiming to become the second driver to win four championships in a row.

The big banger title chase goes back to the days of the Australian Touring Car Championship at the beginning of the 1960s, where the late Ian "Pete" Geoghegan won four straight - 1966 to 1969 - with three of them coming down to the last race of the series.

Just to add a little extra spice to this weekend's race, for the first time since 1999 the Clipsal 500 will be contested over three separate races rather than the traditional one race on each day. This weekend will see two 125km races today and one 250km race tomorrow. Only three drivers have raced in all 15 Clipsal 500s - Red Bull Racing Australia's Craig Lowndes, Holden Racing Team's Garth Tander and returnee to the series after announcing his retirement last year Russell Ingall, now with Repair Management Australia Racing.

Of the three, only Ingall doesn't have an Adelaide trophy in the cabinet at home, but he did finish second to Jason Bright in 2001. The Enforcer is definitely at the upper end of the age scale for full time V8SC racers and clicked over to the big Five O earlier in the week. New Zealand driver Scott McLaughlin is the youngest in the series, 30 years his junior.

Looking at the rest of the field in Adelaide this weekend, there are nine drivers in their 20s, 14 in their 30s and one - Jason Bright - in his 40s. Three drivers will make their Clipsal 500 debuts this year, though two of those have won Dunlop Series rounds at the circuit before. Nick Percat (Walkinshaw Racing) won the 2011 round and Chaz Mostert (Pepsi Max Crew) won both the 2012 and 2013 Adelaide Dunlop Series rounds.

Probably the highlight of the weekend for fans of V8 racing will be the return of Swedish car manufacturer to the fray. Volvo makes a return to the ATCC/V8 Supercars championship for the first time since 1986. A Volvo last competed in the championship on July 13 of that year at the now disestablished Oran Park racetrack just outside Sydney.

In fact, it was the same year that one of the unsung heroes of V8 racing, Kiwi Robbie Francevic, won the Aussie title in a turbocharged Volvo 240. He still holds the record as the oldest man in championship history to be crowned champion at 44 years, but if Ingall can pull a rabbit out of the bag he'll steal the crown.

A Volvo in the hands of another iconic New Zealand V8 racer, Jim Richards along with co-driver Rickard Rydell, led the field home in a Bathurst 1000 in 1998. It's great to see the Kiwi connection and Volvo will continue in V8 racing across the Ditch with McLaughlin behind the wheel of a S60 this season. Swede Robert Dahlgren, McLaughlin's Gary Rogers Motorsport teammate, will make his V8 Supercars debut this weekend in the other S60.

The arrival of Volvo on the grid in 2014 means that five manufacturers are represented in the series for the first time since round six at Eastern Creek in May 1992 when Ford, Nissan, BMW, Holden and a Toyota were all going at it hammer and tongs.

Ford Performance Racing pilot Mark Winterbottom got a small monkey off his back last year by winning the Bathurst 1000. And after coming within spitting distance at one point of clinching his first championship title, will be dead keen to tick his title-winning year box.

The mean streets of Adelaide, where many a car has been destroyed and a driver's season come unstuck, hasn't been a happy hunting ground for Winterbottom. He's yet to win a race or get on pole at the Clipsal 500. If he's to get one over Whincup this year he'll have to grab the lion's share of points this weekend.

A handful of drivers are making a return to full-time drives this weekend including Jack Perkins and Dale Wood, who last competed in the Clipsal 500 back in 2009 as teammates with Kelly Racing. Holden Racing Team's James Courtney is also making something of a comeback.He missed the Sydney 500 season finale in 2013 and hasn't raced since being injured in an accident at Phillip Island last November.

The Dunlop Series returns in Adelaide as the main support category with 2002 DVS champion Paul Dumbrell making a return to the class. He'll drive a Triple Eight-built Holden for Eggleston Motorsport, which was raced last season by Casey Stoner and won Bathurst in 2010 with Craig Lowndes and Mark Skaife.

- NZ Herald

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