Motorsport: Whincup eyes chance to build on his lead

By Eric Thompson

Jamie Whincup. Photo / Greg Henderson
Jamie Whincup. Photo / Greg Henderson

Phillip Island round of V8s changes format from endurance to sprint races.

The V8 Supercars are at Phillip Island this weekend and for the first time since 2008 the event has two sprint races rather than the previous 500km endurance round.

TeamVodafone driver Jamie Whincup is back atop the point's table, and going on previous form will be the driver to beat. A Holden has won nine of the last 12 races at the track.

Whincup has a 29-point advantage over resurgent FPR pilot Will Davison and has finished in the top three in eight of the last nine races at Phillip Island since 2007.

Another indicator that doesn't bode too well for the rest of the pack is that Whincup hasn't qualified outside the top four and will want to celebrate his 250th V8 start with a win.

"For the coupe of years it's been an endurance race so it's good to mix it up," said Whincup. "It's one of the best tracks we have in the country and variety is a good thing. It's an ultra high-speed circuit so we're using hard tyres this weekend.

"It's been a hard slog and I'd rather be leading the championship that in second or beyond. It's early days yet and we've had some cracker battles this year and it's all good."

Ford drivers Davison and third placed Mark Winterbottom have been taking it to Whincup and his teammate Crag Lowndes (fourth) all season and have no intention of reducing the pressure.

"It's a real driver's circuit but set- up is critical," said Davison. "I'm very hungry to get that championship lead back this weekend, December is when it really counts and at the moment I'm just focusing on race wins."

Of the three Kiwis - Shane van Gisbergen, Fabian Coulthard and Greg Murphy - it's van Gisbergen who has the most to prove. He's sixth on the points table but he and the car haven't been on their best form of late and the SBR driver is keen to up the ante and get back in touch with the championship leaders.

"The first year I raced here was the only time it's been a sprint race," said van Gisbergen. "It'll be cool to have a couple of sprint races and being on hard tyres will really suit our car.

"The endurance co-drivers get to go out in the cars this weekend and sort out any problems early so when I jump in it should be sorted.

"We started the season strong but we have struggled the last couple of race weekends. The car's good enough but we have to sort it out when using the soft tyres. This weekend is a hard tyre race so we should be okay.

"We had a good car here last year so I'm looking forward to getting out there. It's one of my favourite tracks of the year. When the car's in qualifying trim and you're going hard it's a pretty cool feeling trying to get the most out of the car and in the high-speed corners you really have to hang on."

Another Kiwi who's hanging in there after four rounds is Coulthard. He has been wickedly fast at times this season and just missed out on a podium finish in race two in Perth. Despite being in a new team yet again, he seems to be getting the most out his new car and gelling well with his new engineer and the Brad Jones Racing team. He sits comfortably in seventh in the series.

"We were unlucky not to get on the podium last time out. We had a good round but I left Perth pretty disappointed," said Coulthard. "On the up side, we moved up in the championship and we're heading in the right direction.

"It's all going good and I'm looking forward to Phillip Island. The big thing for me - not having driven this car there before - is that it's like going in blindfolded as I have no previous data. I'm not too fazed, though, because we seem to be doing okay at the other tracks I've not raced in this car."

Things can't get much worse for the battling Kiwi Murphy and his Pepsi Max Crew.

Others to watch over the weekend will be Garth Tander, who has tasted success at Phillip Island in the past, as have Rick and Todd Kelly and former V8 Supercars champion James Courtney, who's due a big finish to haul himself up from 14th in the series.

This year's format for the Phillip Island 300 is something different from recent years. Today's race will be over 140km (32 laps), while tomorrow's will be over 200km (45 laps).

- NZ Herald

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