Let’s talk about Jamie Whincup. You probably don’t like him, but you should.
Whincup is a great guy. You only see him when he wins races. Which he does a lot. More than anyone else in Supercars history. And when he’s up on the podium or talking in media conferences, you’d swear he’s had a charisma bypass.
So while you respect his achievements – he’s now a seven-time Supercars champion – you are unlikely to warm to Whincup. He’s not bubbly and fan-friendly like Craig Lowndes. He’s not as engaging as Scott McLaughlin. And he’s definitely not as colourful as David Reynolds. Whincup is admired, but not loved. Throughout his decade-long domination, most fans have regarded him as clinical and arrogant. While they are right about the former, the latter is a misconception.
He’s actually thoughtful, respectful, honest and incisive. Intense and driven, sure, but there is a lighter side to J-Dub. It’s just that he doesn’t show it in public. Away from the track, he’s fun-loving and relaxed. He can also be disarmingly introspective.
Mind you, his lack of rapport with the fans is his own fault. He tried so hard to be humble that it had the reverse effect. The fact that he was the underdog in 2017’s title fight may have improved his image. There were signs that people warmed to him as he stayed in contention through sheer grit against a faster opponent. He and Triple Eight weren’t the ones to beat as Scott McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske emerged as the top combination.
As well as winning support as he gamely fought on, Whincup changed some perceptions with a more relaxed demeanour out of the car. His external reaction to the relative adversity was composed and genuine, as was the emotional relief he displayed after claiming the title against the odds. But while his public persona showed signs of thawing, don’t expect his race-driver personality to change. He will never be a colourful character. He takes his racing too seriously.
Whincup is a winning machine. And even when he is not winning, he is relentless. Never gives up. Ever.
Which is how he won the 2017 Supercars crown in extraordinary circumstances. Honestly, you couldn’t have come up with such a dramatic ending. When it all fell apart for McLaughlin on the brutal Newcastle street circuit, Whincup did what he had to do – the only thing he could do – to snatch the title. He won the race.
It was only his fourth victory of the season, but it was the one that really mattered. He hung in with the same tenacity that kept him in contention despite being outgunned by McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske, scoring podiums and points with metronomic consistency.
While McLaughlin had stunning speed and Roger Penske’s takeover of Dick Johnson Racing finally made the reorganised team the formidable foe it was always going to be, there were still enough errors to undermine their clear advantage. That was never more apparent than in the fateful final race. After an early pit lane speeding penalty, McLaughlin became the architect of his own demise. His fightback was heroic, but flawed.
His gutsy effort was later tarnished by DJRTP publicly disputing the speeding charge that began the charismatic Kiwi’s spiral to defeat, releasing its own on-board data to show he didn’t exceed the 40 km/h pit lane limit. The passive-aggressive posturing smacked of sour grapes and was at odds with the fair play that has traditionally characterised Penske’s approach. It also ran the risk of exposing the team to a charge of bringing the sport into disrepute. Nothing should be taken away from Whincup’s unlikely triumph. His resolve and resilience were the marks of a true champion. He may never be as fondly remembered as a Brock, a Johnson or even a Moffat, but his achievements must earn him serious consideration as Australian touring car racing’s Greatest Of All Time.
Arguments will of course rage about who that is exactly, but consider this. J-Dub will have only just turned 35 when the 2018 season starts in Adelaide on the first weekend of March. His quest for more success is far, far from over.
Main image credit: Getty/Daniel Kalisz, Stringer
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