Whincup still circling as V8 Supercars return in Darwin

Jamie Whincup is far from out but nor is Ford Performance Racing as tires were the topic of conversation leading into V8 Supercars return in this weekend's SKYCITY Triple Crown in Darwin.

A refreshed and revitalized Whincup was second in his Red Bull Racing Australia Holden in today's practice session to Kiwi flier Shane Van Gisbergen in the Tekno VIP Petfood's Holden. Holden Racing team's James Courtney was third.

With a reduced allocation of tires in the NT Whincup, who has made his way back into fourth in the Championship, was braced for an interesting weekend as he continues his quest to catch Mark Winterbottom, his team-mate Craig Lowndes and Lockwood Racing's Fabian Coulthard.

Van Gisbergen has been a consistent performer until a self-confessed shocker in the last event in Perth. He won the first feature race of the year in Adelaide, had a strong home event in New Zealand with a race win and solid finishes elsewhere.

He sits sixth in the Championship.

"We struggled at Perth so we wanted to put our best foot forward here on the Friday. We didn't test between the rounds, so we really needed to get some confidence back in our car," he said.

The drivers had differing views on the fewer tires available, some believing it will make for some great action in the warm conditions in the Territory. At the end of the day, many said, it's the same for everybody.

"The talk of the weekend is the tires, we simply don't have enough, which is quite tough," he said.

"But we've got to deal with what we've got and Sunday is certainly going to be interesting for what people do with their tire plan."

Whincup is one who is an advocate of more on-track action, claiming this weekend could see some interesting strategy and spectacular racing. For that reason he was a fan of a 'joker' set that teams could use at their discretion at any time.

"It should be good for the teams running down the back," he said of this weekend.

"Having a joker set is a good thing – if you get a late safety car, you can come in, bang on a new set of tires and come flying through, crash into everyone and make some good TV."

Whincup said he felt more on top of his game than he has this year, feeling mentally refreshed from a hectic start to the season.

"For me personally, I just needed a recharge. I was pretty run down after Perth," he said.

"It's been a crazy start to the year, I don't know why in particular. But, pretty run down. I think it was just that three race meetings in four weeks and they were every second week. It was pretty full on."

And FPR? Winterbottom was thirteenth overall, David Reynolds in 16 and Chaz Mostert 23.

"I don't think we should get too excited," Whincup said. "They'll be there tomorrow."

Courtney has benefitted from a test day prior to this weekend and while he feels an improvement is looking for more in the coming events from the hallowed Holden Racing Team.

"Everyone's got their sad story about something that went wrong. I think there's still plenty left in it (the car)," Courtney said.

Coulthard was twelfth overall for the day, no doubt using older tires and saving new rubber for the race weekend, starting with qualifying tomorrow morning. Lowndes was eleventh overall.

"I don't feel like I really know where we stack up with different people running softs and different people running hards," Coulthard said.

"Tomorrow when everyone's running hards we'll know where we stack up. In the last session we suffered with a couple of things which doesn't really give us a fair read about where we are."

Nissan Motorsport's Rick Kelly came home fourth in his Jack Daniel's Altima in the last session, after his three Nissan teammates all ended practice two in the top 10.

"All in all we seem to have a bit of strength, depending on what tire we're on," Kelly said.

"I'm excited by that, we changed a few things in the car setup wise and ergonomically at the recent test day, and they seemed to work really well."

Russell Ingall made an appearance fifth in the Repair Management Australia Commodore, with Michael Caruso, both Volvos of Robert Dahlgren and Scott McLaughlin, Lowndes and Winterbottom all in the top 10 in practice three.

Two 100km races feature tomorrow with a marathon 200km fixture on Sunday.

Leave a Reply