Post Symmons Plains, the championship is now down to 67 points.
That’s what separates Jamie Whincup from the title of V8 Supercar Champion 2008. After today’s round win culminating in a team one-two in races two and three at Symmons Plains, the title battle now falls to two players. Mark Winterbottom, of Ford Performance Racing and Jamie Whincup of Team Vodafone/Triple Eight Racing. 300 points remain up for grabs at the final round in two weeks. Whincup needs only 67 of those points to ensure victory over Winterbottom. Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander fell off the ladder after the disastrous showing for that team in Bahrain, and despite holding pole position for the start of the weekend, the fabric which is HRT is paper-thin these days, and rents easily. After stating twentieth in race two today, finishing eighth and ultimately finishing fifth by round’s end, the very best Tander can possibly hope for is runner-up. He is 187 points behind Winterbottom, and a massive 420 points adrift of Whincup.
Not that team Vodafone had it all their own way this weekend, but guardian spirits are surely hovering over Whincup. By the end of race two, Whincup’s #88 Falcon was losing pace, and while the car was mechanically fit, something was letting performance down. The final lap of that race exhibited some of the most professional and aggressive motorsport I’ve seen all year. Todd Kelly in the Jack Daniel’s #7 Commodore closing right up to the rear of Whincup, with #888, Craig Lowndes on his hammer, desperate to place his falcon between the slowing Whincup and Kelly. It almost happened at turn seven on the penultimate lap, again on the run to the Hairpin for the final time, and finally, successfully at the end of the back-straight. A one-two with a twist. The right rear tyre on Whincup’s car was shredded in a manner similar to that which we saw happening at Bathurst this year. His guardians were on the lookout though. The tyre remained inflated and the car crossed the line. Had it burst, as Dunlop technicians claim it ought to have, Whincup would have been left stranded on the final lap. That’s fate.
Race three, with both Team Vodafone cars starting from the front row, was just as frantic as the earlier races, yet Team Vodafone functioned in both cars and pits like the well oiled machine it is. These races are more often than not, won or lost in pitlane, which irritates me, but purist’s and V8 Supercar politics don’t seem to meet on the same page. Of all the teams we saw in pitlane, the Team Vodafone lot were easily the slickest. HRT had a millisecond lapse on Tander’s car, losing him a place on track, and that one team alone was as graphic an example as could be presented of the importance of the 40kph trundle down pitlane, two tyre change, and return to the track.
It’s off to Oran Park for the final round, and also for the final time as a round of the V8 Supercar championship. Oran Park has fallen foul of the encroachment of suburbia, to ultimately become Oran Park Town. Something of a purpose built satellite city that’s slated to take the next twenty years to come to fruition. Oran Park, as a motorsport venue, will continue to function into 2009, and perhaps longer, but it’s future as a greenfields suburban sub-division is sealed.
There’s more rumours rumbling out of the mill too. Larry Perkins is considering his future as a race team owner, citing the current economic malaise threatening to push many businesses into deep financial pits. His team’s major sponsor – Jack Daniel’s Whiskey – is not renewing it’s contract with Perkins. With the mooted move by that team’s lead driver, Todd Kelly, to join with his brother in a probable four-car super team, LP is seriously considering returning to being the engineer he’s always been at heart. His two V8 Supercar licences are up for sale, but he claims they’ve always been available to anyone with deep enough pockets. He may even lease the licences next year. Nothing is set in stone yet, especially that of the Team Kelly creation. Major sponsors for that entity haven’t been nailed down, and may never be in time for 2009. Todd Kelly isn’t saying much, and his brother Rick will say only that his personal sponsor, Red Bull, don’t want to have their name on a car, thanks all the same. It’s called "Silly Season".
Here’s the points table after round thirteen. One to go. I’d give it to Whincup after today, but the memory of Round Four still haunts me.