Motorsport: Whincup one to beat in Abu Dhabi

By Eric Thompson

Twelve-lap sprint races means aggression and no pitstops, says nearest rival.

Jamie Whincup has never been off the podium at Abu Dhabi in the last two years. Photo / Supplied
Jamie Whincup has never been off the podium at Abu Dhabi in the last two years. Photo / Supplied

The V8 Supercars series returns to Abu Dhabi this weekend for the first time in 20 months and championship leader Jamie Whincup knows his way around the Yas Marina track.

He has three wins from four races over the past two years and has never been off the podium.

The Team Vodafone driver heads the table, 218 points ahead of Mark Winterbottom with Craig Lowndes another 27 points further back.

There is a slight change though, which might help the chasing pack, this year the cars will be on the full 5.5km layout instead of the 4.7km course, as the tin-tops are there as a support category for the Formula One race being held at the same time.

The race format has changed also. There was a single 20-minute qualifying session with drivers' three respective fastest lap times determining their grid positions for the three races across the weekend. Each race is a sprint affair over 12 laps (65km) with two on Saturday and one on Sunday.

Each race is worth 100 championship points to the winner, though qualifying is similar to the system used last year at Barbagallo.

"We'll be going into the weekend with a lot of confidence from our previous experience there, but I'm certainly not over-confident," said Whincup.

"Three rounds remaining doesn't sound like much, but for me there still seems to be a very long way to go. I hope my best performance of the year is still to come."

Winterbottom has not had the same success as the defending champion but is not far off it. He has only finished off the podium once in Abu Dhabi and has always qualified on the first two rows.

The changed format could play into Whincup's hands. If he has a DNF in one race, he'll only lose 100 points, but gets two more cracks at it to recover.

"This format's probably going to suit that guy with the championship lead," said Winterbottom. "The sprint races will reward good qualifying and that has been our strength of late so hopefully that works for us.

"There'll be a lot of aggression and no pitstops, so purely just you and the car.

"We saw at Sandown in the sprint races the racing was frantic and that should be a good gauge for Abu Dhabi. It will be tight but we need to win races and score more points than Jamie [Whincup] - that is our goal for the weekend."

Whincup's teammate Lowndes will have to grab a bag of points over the weekend if he's to continue his formidable push up the championship ladder. With three rounds to go, Lowndes finds himself in the familiar position of having to chase Whincup at the pointy end of the season. Lowndes trailed Whincup to last year's title, eventually finishing 35 points behind.

Abu Dhabi has not been a happy hunting ground for Lowndes where he has scored just one podium finish. "I am feeling really confident about heading back to Abu Dhabi. Even though my results don't show it, it is a circuit I like racing on," he said.

"I need to come away with a good points haul this weekend to make sure I remain in the title hunt."

After an interlude sliding around the Manfeild racetrack at the opening round of the Cody's D1NZ National Drifting Championship last weekend, Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen is back behind the wheel of his SP Tool Falcon.

The 23-year-old Kiwi lies fifth overall in the standings and will be looking to keep Tim Slade at bay. Fellow New Zealander Fabian Coulthard dropped out of the top 10 after the Gold Coast 600 and will be keen to score well and force himself back up the table.

After this weekend's rounds the teams have two weeks before the penultimate round at Winton and a further fortnight until the grand final at Sydney's Homebush street circuit over the first weekend of December.

Standings

V8 Supercars points after 11 rounds

1. Jamie Whincup 3060
2. Mark Winterbottom 2842
3. Craig Lowndes 2815
4. Will Davison 2503
5. Shane van Gisbergen 2182
6. Tim Slade 2085
7. Garth Tander 2030
8. David Reynolds 1746.

- NZ Herald

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