Bathurst: Whincup fires first at Bathurst

By Eric Thompson

Three of four title contenders lead way ahead of top 10 shoot-out while Murphy sits back.

Jamie Whincup during practice for the Bathurst 1000. Photo / Robert Cianflone
Jamie Whincup during practice for the Bathurst 1000. Photo / Robert Cianflone

The opening salvos of the 50th anniversary of the Bathurst 1000 have been fired ipractice, with championship leader Jamie Whincup posting a 2.07.35s lap to open the weekend's racing.

His TeamVodafone stablemate Craig Lowndes looked to have second fastest until Ford Performance Racing's Will Davison split the two. So there you have, straight out of the box, three of the four title contenders leading the way, with Mark Winterbottom, second in the points, a bit further back.

Remember, though, this is just an indicator because it's not until this evening (7.30pm NZ time) that the top 10 shoot-out will sort the men from the boys and reveal the starting line-up for tomorrow's Great Race.

Every Bathurst weekend is special to the drivers, and getting a win around the mountain can mean more than winning a series.

The pressure is really on this weekend because it's the 50th anniversary - and what a year to have your name on the trophy.

FPR and their two driver pairings of Mark Winterbottom/Steven Richards and Will Davison/John McIntyre are especially under the kosh because the team haven't won at Bathurst in the 10 years of the team's existence, and nor has Winterbottom stood atop the podium.

"There's no hiding from it, that's for sure," said Winterbottom. "The pressure is really on, especially this year. The things you need to win here are great car speed, a good team, and great strategy. You also need two drivers who know each other and get the same thing out of the car."

Whincup certainly knows how win at Mt Panorama, having already collected three trophies - all with Lowndes.

For the past couple of years, though, he's been partnered with different drivers, and things haven't quite panned out. This year he's with Paul Dumbrell, who isn't a full-time V8 driver any more, but knows the mountain well.

"It's been a while for me [winning], as my last victory was back in 2008, so it's about time for me to get another victory here," said Whincup. "Paul does a good job up here and that was one of the reasons we picked him, as well as his speed at Bathurst.

"We're both working to get this car nice and quick and then go and do the best we can."

The heat's on right from the start, and gone are the days of cruising around for 100 laps and then racing.

It's flat-out from the get-go and Lowndes, along with Warren Luff, are up to the challenge. Lowndes has won five times and the pair arrived at the track with their gander up having recently won the Sandown 500.

The leading Kiwi in the field is SBR's Shane van Gisbergen, who's paired with Luke Youldon this year. Van Gisbergen is regarded as the rising star of the series and although he's shown scintillating form at times at Bathurst he and the team just haven't managed to nail the whole race just yet.

"It's going to be tough," he said. "The top two teams, Triple Eight and FPR, have won every race since last November so it ain't going to be easy.

"Anything can happen on Sunday as it's such a long day.

"The first aim is to make the top 10 shoot-out and then take it from there. It's a track like nowhere else and if you've got a car that works there you can get the job done."

Fellow Kiwi Fabian Coulthard is having his best season in V8 Supercars and is quietly confident he and David Besnard are good to go.

"I've got a good feeling about this weekend,' said Coulthard.

"We just need to make sure we don't lose our own thought process by worrying too much about what other people are doing."

Defending Peter Brock Trophy holders Garth Tander and Nick Percat are worthy of a mention as serious challengers. They are the only two winners in the same car, and Tander has pushed on in recent rounds to sit just in behind van Gisbergen in sixth on the points table.

"There's lots of extra pressure, huge pressure on the teams and co-drivers, and it's those who can perform well under the pressure that will come out on top," said Tander.

We'll leave the final word to Greg Murphy, who knows Bathurst like the back of his hand. By his own admission it's been a crap year, but when it comes to that place, something magic just seems to happen to him and his car.

"Our preparation this year has been non-existent and we have no form at all. The odds are against us this year but we've gone into Bathurst like that before and come out the other end with a half-decent result so we'll have to wait and see."

- NZ Herald

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