Motorsport: Formula One world champ to make Supercar appearance

By Eric Thompson

Jamie Whincup is topping the table after six rounds with 1494 points. Photo / Getty Images
Jamie Whincup is topping the table after six rounds with 1494 points. Photo / Getty Images

This weekend's V8 Supercar race in Townsville has an added bit of glamour. Single seater racing meets tin-top racing in the guise of Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 Formula One world champion and 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner.

The Canadian is no stranger to racing big V8s, having ventured into the Nascar arena in 2007 and raced at the 2010 Armor All Gold Coast 600, sharing The Bottle-O Falcon with Paul Dumbrell.

He's a damn good peddler and is only one of three men, with Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi, to win the F1 world championship, IndyCar Series and an Indy 500.

Villeneuve has replaced Greg Murphy in the No 51 Pepsi Max Crew Commodore as the Kiwi continues to recover from recent back surgery.

After six rounds the battle for the 2012 title is pretty tight at the top with only 247 points covering the top four drivers. Jamie Whincup leads the pack at the moment, 18 points ahead of Will Davison, who in turn is only 11 points in front of his FPR teammate Mark Winterbottom.

Davison and Whincup have been going at it hammer and tongs all season with the championship lead having changed a number of times. Winterbottom has been at the pointy end twice both in Hamilton at the ITM400 and Phillip Island. He's in the box seat watching the top two and ready to pounce if either makes a mistake.

"The championship's been good so far this year. There're no complaints from us [FPR]," said Winterbottom.

"We've always had a good car but the trick has been to be good for 12 months. This year we've been good everywhere and we haven't had a weakness as such and every track we go to it's been good."

The FPR team are in a happy place at the moment with Winterbottom and Davidson right up there with their past nemesis TeamVodafone. Another team on a roll this year are Stone Brothers Racing with Kiwi driver Shane van Gisbergen and his teammate Tim Slade sitting nicely inside the top 10 in fifth and seventh respectively.

"I can't wait to get out there and it's always cool at this track," said a fired-up van Gisbergen. "I enjoy the place but we haven't had too many results here. I think we got fifth here last year but we've had a few car and driver problems here in the past.

"We've worked really hard this year and lately we've been really consistent."

Consistency is the key in any sport and in his last two outings the Kiwi has been one of the top point scorers over the weekend. Qualifying has always been van Gisbergen's Achilles heel, as we all know how quick he is in race trim. This year, though, things are looking up.

"Last year we were rated for qualifying at 14.8 and already this year we've moved up 6.8. We're half there now. Qualifying has always been a pain for me and I've never done well in any series I've competed in.

"I've put a lot of effort in recently learning how the car and tyres work to get the most out of it. Starting in the top 10 each race makes it a bit easier as you don't have to pass so many cars," said van Gisbergen.

Garth Tander may be hanging just inside the top 10 but this weekend could be when he gets his first win since last October. He and Whincup have finished on the podium in Townsville in five of the six races held there since 2009. Tander, who won the Saturday race last year, is the only driver to have qualified in the top five for every race held at the circuit so the rest will dismiss him at their peril.

Of the top drivers, Whincup has led the most laps on the Reid Park street layout with Tander, Winterbottom, James Courtney and Craig Lowndes with the next most. Interestingly, the man challenging Whincup for the title the most at the moment, Davison, has led only three laps over three years.

Points after 6 rounds

1 Jamie Whincup1494

2 Will Davison1456

3 Mark Winterbottom1445

4 Craig Lowndes1247

5 Shane van Gisbergen1145

6 Lee Holdsworth1079

7 Tim Slade1059

8 Garth Tander990

- NZ Herald

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