V8 SUPERCARS: Whincup races into history with title #6
SNARING a record sixth Australian V8 Supercars title at Phillip Island the weekend poses the question: is Jamie Whincup the best local tin top driver in the history of the sport?
Whincup’s sixth touring car crown means he has overtaken Mark Skaife, Dick Johnson and Ian Geoghegan, all of whom banked five championships.
Skaife, Johnson, and Geoghegan all attract support for the Best Ever tag, as do Jim Richards, Peter Brock, Allan Moffat and Craig Lowndes.
But it’s hard to argue against Whincup’s strike rate, and formidable record, which also includes four Bathurst 1000 wins.
The Red Bull Racing star has been untouchable in recent seasons, winning the past four titles and coping with a significant challenge – the switch to the Next Generation racecar.
He sealed title number six, typically, with another assertive win on Saturday.
It is nigh impossible to compare drivers from different eras, and many will rightly argue that Whincup has benefitted from being part of the classiest team on pitlane, but he has routinely gapped team-mate Lowndes, no easy task, while dealing with some serious opposition in a category based on performance parity.
He rarely plays it safe. He backs himself. He won’t be intimidated.
Typically, there were no winning celebrations by Whincup, who has been criticised – perhaps unfairly – for being too cool and unemotional.
Instead of celebrating with the team, Whincup studied car data with his key technicians until nine o’clock on Saturday night.
“It’s a bit of a weird feeling to lock away the championship with a round to go because there is still a lot of pride on the line for the final races and we don’t want to let ourselves down right to the very end,” said Whincup, the ultimate 24/7 professional.
“I’m sure it will mean everything when I look back at it and it has a chance to sink in. My motivation and love for racing is higher than ever and I’m looking forward to enjoying the next few races.”
The 31-year-old’s speed, fitness, composure under pressure and dedication to the business of winning races and titles certainly makes him the hardest to beat of any on the V8 grid.
Whincup has been the dominant force in the sport again this season, with 12 wins to date – and two races remaining at Homebush early next month.
The crazy, sobering thing is that Whincup, should he elect to remain a local hero and not challenge himself in international motor sport, could have another decade to add to his successes.
The six-timer is now looking forward to a more immediate challenge, the returning former two-times champ Marcos Ambrose, who has spent nine years racing in NASCAR in America.
Whincup has no doubts that Ambrose, who will race as a wildcard in the Sydney finale in a DJR Falcon as a precursor to a full season next year, will be fast straight away, despite not racing a V8 Supercar since 2005, also the year he last executed a standing start.
ARC: Pedder is rally champion
SCOTT Pedder has taken the Australian Rally Championship for the first time, but the final round of 2014, Rally Victoria, also marked the emergence of young Steve Mackenzie as a serious challenger in local rallying.
Pedder’s task was made easier when on the very first stage his title rival Brendan Reeves had the misfortune of a flat tyre on his Mazda 2, dropping almost three and a half minutes.
"We had a flat only two kilometres into the first stage, had to pull over at the same spot to change it and then had to follow (Glen) Raymond's dust for 20-odd kilometres," said a shattered Reeves.
His cruel luck allowed Pedder to ease off the pace even after Reeves began to score some stage wins.
While Reeves and Pedder eyed each other, Ford Fiesta driver Mackenzie emerged as a fresh force in Australian rallying, easily clinching his maiden ARC Heat victory ahead of Pedder and Tony Sullens (Citroen).
A clearly emotional Pedder leapt from his Renault Clio at the finish to hug his family, friends and team from Walkinshaw Racing.
Pedder reflected on a massive crash at Rally SA in 2010 when he seriously fractured his leg.
"After that I thought it was all over, that I'd probably never even drive a rally car again,” he said. “So to be able to come back, fight with guys like Eli (Evans) and Brendan (Reeves) and to win a championship is an amazing feeling."
WRC: Ogier wins Wales finale; Taylor fourth in Junior WRC
SEBASTIEN Ogier scored his eighth win of a spectacular 2014 World Rally Championship to end a dominant year in commanding fashion in the typically difficult conditions that prevail at Rally Great Britain.
It was the 12th win of a possible 13 events for Volkswagen in 2014. Hyundai won the remaining event.
The ubiquitous rain and menacing fog hanging over the Welsh forests make for perilous gravel stages, the likes of which are not experienced anywhere else on the WRC calendar. Smooth in places, mostly muddy, but always slippery, the 70th staging of this classic once again posed an extreme challenge to participants.
“That is obviously the best way to end a season, with a win,” Ogier said after winning in Britain.
“We were under no pressure, as the world championship was no longer at stake, and just wanted to enjoy the Rally Great Britain.
“We really had to go flat-out on Friday and had a close battle for the lead with my team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala. That allowed us to open up a big lead over the rest of our rivals.
“When Jari-Matti made a mistake on Saturday, it obviously completely changed the character of the rally for us. I just had to get the car to the finish line. However, that is anything but easy given the typical conditions here in Wales.”
Mikko Hirvonen – four times a championship runner-up – brought his WRC career to an end in style, securing second place in an M-Sport Fiesta.
Ever the sportsman, Ogier didn’t let Hirvonen’s 13-year WRC career end without a thought: “A quick word on Mikko Hirvonen: I am delighted for him that he ended his final WRC rally on the podium. He has had a great career, and we will miss driving against him.”
Briton Alastair Fisher notched up a second consecutive victory in the FIA WRC Junior class at Rally GB, the series won by Stéphane Lefebvre.
In their DS3 R3s, the seven crews competing in the final round battled it out in the heart of the Welsh countryside with Fisher leading throughout to take the win ahead of Martin Koči.
Australian Molly Taylor placed fourth.
NASCAR: Marcos bows out as Harvick crowned Sprint Cup champ
IT WAS the race within a race to crown the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion; four men standing, and 39 spoilers going at it over 400 miles of slippery Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
It was also the end of Marcos Ambrose’s full-time NASCAR campaign, with the Australian calling time on the bold nine-year American phase of his career to return home.
But all attention was on the four men who survived a long and brutal season of regular racing and the cut-throat 10-race eliminations called The Chase.
The new elimination system left many fans and most of the star drivers disappointed. Missing the chance to be champion in 2014 were Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards.
A new champion would be crowned out of Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
Three of the quartet – Harvick, Logano and Hamlin – raced in the forward bunch early, cementing the thought that the new champ might also be the winner of the race.
Newman, who started way back in 27th, was fighting his way through the pack into the top 10. And (cue the soundtrack from Jaws) he kept coming… sixth … fifth …
Ambrose started ninth, slid back and briefly went a lap down early in the running, searching for miracles rather than a touch of luck.
Up front, Gordon – still mightily peeved about missing the championship chance by a single point – was looking for a form of shallow redemption with a Homestead win.
But at half distance, all four contenders were running in the top five. Tantalising.
One hundred laps from the flag, the contenders were still at the pointy end, Hamlin leading from Logano. Ambrose had bounced back to 14th before dropping back again.
Logano’s hopes were bruised but not dashed when he scraped the wall while a tardy pit stop cost Newman some places and he slipped out of the top 10. Briefly.
Restart with 25 to run: Gordon and Keselowski one and two, but all four contenders bunched together, led by Hamlin.
Then debris on the track and another caution. Twenty to go.
Taking four new tyres, Logano’s car slipped off the jack. There, in that moment, went his championship hopes. From sixth he fell to nowhere.
Harvick and Newman took two right-side tyres apiece, while Gordon and Hamlin stayed out, hopeful their tyres would hang in for 15 laps.
Two racing laps, and another caution.
Gordon belatedly pitted, leaving the restart between Hamlin on old tyres side-by-side with Newman with two fresh boots.
With eight to go, Hamlin led Harvick and Newman, but the leader was struggling and vulnerable.
Harvick pounced into the lead and Newman nailed Hamlin for second.
Restart: three to run. Hamlin and Logano well out of it. Harvick looked safe. Newman settled for second. An almost tame ending after a dramatic race.
Californian Harvick took the race win, and the championship. The late cautions killed Hamlin.
Barely noticed in the celebrations was Ambrose’s goodbye after placing 27th.