Whincup wins strategic V8 Supercars Albert Park 400 opener
by Andrew van Leeuwen
Strategy was the name of game for the first of three races in the V8 Supercars Albert Park 400 at the 2011 Formula 1 Australian Grand Prix – and Jamie Whincup and TeamVodafone played it better than anyone else.
With teams needing to use one set of Dunlop ‘Sprint’ tyres (a soft, quick-wearing compound) and one set of Dunlop ‘Control’ tyres (the standard V8 Supercar tyre), some drivers opted to start on the fast tyres, and some opted to come home quickly.
For Whincup, starting on the front row, the choice was obvious.
He bolted away from the field on the ‘Sprint’ tyres in the early laps, building a lead so big that he still had 17secs up his sleeve when all of the mid-race stops were done. Sure, he was on the slower of the tyres late in the race – but Whincup was simply too far down the road to be caught.
“I’ve been coming here for years, and never had a race win,” he said.
“It was a high risk strategy [to start on soft tyres], but we didn’t get a Safety Car, which helped us out. We got out in front and that was the end of it.”
The rest of the podium was made up by drivers who took the opposite strategic flag. Garth Tander was second, having started on the ‘Control’ tyres. His early laps were crucial, Tander moving from 14th to sixth in four laps, and was a clear second when the stops shook out – all achieved on the harder, slower tyres. But while he had a grip advantage, Tander was too far behind Whincup to challenge for the lead.
“I’m really happy,” said Tander. “The car was very good.
“It was exceptional on hard tyres – we were catching the guys on softs. Jamie was just too far up the road.”
Shane van Gisbergen’s story was different again. Like Tander, ‘The Giz’ started on the harder tyres, but while Tander went forwards, van Gisbergen spent the first part of the race dropping back through the field. Having been as low as ninth, he threw soft tyres on for the second stint in the race and hauled his way back up to third.
His team-mate Alex Davison finished fourth, while the third Stone Brothers Racing car of Tim Slade was also in the hunt for a top five spot until a problem during the pit-stops dropped him well down the order.
Rick Kelly was fifth, Lee Holdsworth sixth, and Jason Richards seventh, a remarkable drive from the man battling cancer. Mark Winterbottom, Jono Webb and Jason Bright rounded out the top 10.
Pole-sitter Craig Lowndes was the best of the hard-tyre starters in the early stages of the race, only to make contact with Shane van Gisbergen on the fourth lap. While van Gisbergen was able to continue, Lowndes had to endure a lengthy stay in the pits and ended up 27th.
But while it wasn’t a great result, some clear air at the back of the field allowed Lowndes to set a new lap record – 1:55.9682sec, compared with the previous benchmark of 1:58.2337sec set by Whincup in 2010.