WHEN Jamie Whincup eventually decides to celebrate his fourth V8 Supercars championship, he will realise it’s been perhaps the hardest-fought of them all.
The Holden driver sealed this year’s title with one of his most amazing race performances to finish third at Winton yesterday, ensuring the final round of the series in Sydney in a fortnight is merely academic.
The 29-year-old overcame a mid-race drive-through penalty which robbed him of the lead and dropped him to 22nd place, powering his way back to a podium spot and gaining enough points to guarantee the title.
But Whincup wasn’t ready to follow the fight of his life with the night of his life.
He and Team Vodafone refused to celebrate the title win yet, preferring to ensure the trophy is in his hands after the final race in Sydney before breaking open the champagne.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be celebrating … so why not bottle it all up until the last race on the last day and let it all rip after that,” Whincup said.
“I’ll just bottle the emotion, do everything right in Sydney, and make sure everything is signed, sealed and delivered.”
Whincup’s season started days after the death of his father David, and his mental strength shone through with a race one victory at Adelaide’s Clipsal 500.
But Team Vodafone was challenged heavily by Ford Performance Racing’s Mark Winterbottom and Will Davison during the first half of the year, and, following a mid-season lull, Whincup and his team refocused and regrouped.
What followed has been complete domination.
Whincup and teammate Craig Lowndes won 17 of the past 18 races — Lowndes winning yesterday as Whincup’s heroics went on behind him.
Whincup credited his team for providing a fail-proof car.
“I had an excellent car which allowed me to come through the field,” he said.
“As a team, (the win) would be right up there. As a driver, I didn’t do anything out of control.”
The championship chase looked certain to stretch to Sydney when Whincup was penalised on lap 26 for spinning his wheels while his car was up on jacks in pit lane.
That meant a drive-through penalty, which dropped Whincup from the lead to 22nd place.
He fell even lower during pit stops.
But he launched a stunning assault through the field, eventually climbing to third with four laps remaining to ensure his only rival Winterbottom cannot catch him.
He now holds a 317-point championship lead over Ford’s Winterbottom, with only 300 points left on offer.
Whincup adds this year’s title to his 2008, 2009 and 2011 championships, and is just one behind the record five touring car titles won by Dick Johnson, Ian Geoghegan and Mark Skaife.
Winterbottom admitted defeat in the title race and he was concentrating on retaining the season runners-up spot with Lowndes still a chance of catching him.
“Obviously the championship is over, but I’d like to split the Triple Eight cars and we’re in the right position to do that now,” Winterbottom said.