JAMIE WHINCUP is the most successful driver in Australian Touring Car history, yet he remains polarising to fans of the sport. We sent Dale Rodgers to sit down with the Red Bull HRT driver to chart his course to the top and try and find out what makes him tick.
WORDS: Dale Rodgers IMAGES: Supplied
TO THE casual motor sports observer, a number of names would spring to mind.
Peter Brock was the ‘King of The Mountain’, Dick Johnson was taken out by a rock on the same Mountain that weirdly kick started his outstanding career, Alan Moffat was that ‘Bad Guy’, Craig Lowndes – the lovable ‘Kid’ and so on. Not surprisingly in Australia, all of these drivers are Touring Car and Supercar stars and heroes.
However, when you look at the record book, one name eclipses all of these drivers records and for that matter every other ‘Tin Top’ driver in Australia.
His name is Jamie Whincup.
In his late 30’s, Whincup will most likely retire with every Supercar and Touring Car record on his CV.
He already holds records for most race wins, most pole positions and the most Supercar Championship wins with a staggering seven series wins in fifteen full time assaults on the Championship. This includes four on the trot from 2011 to 2014! Yet his profile has not scaled the heights of the aforementioned drivers, but more on that later.
Jamie Whincup’s story is somewhat different to the young racing drivers who climbed the ladder through Karting to Formula Ford and, then with a Formula 1 drive as the ultimate goal, headed off to Europe.
Europe was never a possibility for me. But then I got an opportunity in Supercars and I could not have been more grateful
Whincup admits that he thought he would just be a ‘pretty handy’ Karter and even a progression to Formula Ford was something he had not considered seriously.
“When I was racing Go Karts in 1998 and 99, I never had any inkling that I was going to move on from Karting. I was really embroiled in my racing and never planned more than one year in advance. Honestly, I just thought I would be racing Go Karts for the rest of my life!” Jamie says quite candidly.
“Then my father and my uncle (Sports Sedan racer Graeme Whincup) bought me a Formula Ford and I thought ‘Wow’ there is another world here. I am going to be driving a Formula Ford. And again I never thought that I would ever move on from Formula Ford.”
After competing in various State rounds, Whincup raced with the family Whincup Team in the National Formula Ford Championship in 2001, finishing a very creditable third place. He moved to Michael Ritter’s Sonic Motor Racing Services in 2002 taking over Will Davison’s seat from 2001, winning the Formula Ford Championship convincingly that year.
On the back of that performance, Jamie was offered a V8 Supercar Endurance drive with Garry Rogers Motorsport. He would team up with Mark Noske in the team’s second entry, in an era when lead drivers could team up together with the connection coming through Rogers’ Valvoline sponsorship extending to Ritter’s Sonic Formula Ford team.
But before that there was once again the question of ‘what next?’ for Whincup.
“Halfway through 2002, I almost sent Dad broke. Mum was screaming that the couch at home had holes in it, and the oven was a bit hit or miss, the door would come down and wouldn’t work. So it was always going to be a long stretch even to get a ticket to Europe as opposed to go over there and drive. So Europe was never a possibility for me. But then I got an opportunity in Supercars and I could not have been more grateful,” he explained.
The 2002 drive with Garry Rogers at Bathurst earned him a full time ride in 2003. Teamed up with Garth Tander in the GRM Commodores, the year ended on a sour note for Whincup and he was out of a drive.
At the end of ‘03, I had to do the awkward and embarrassing thing of ringing up all the Team Owners trying to get a drive.. Larry (Perkins) said I wasn’t very good, Jim (Richards) said that from what he had seen I was a bloody good driver in an old model car..
“I gave it everything I had in 2003. But, the situation wasn’t right. I was thrown in the deep end, I was new and unskilled and unfortunately at the end of 2003 we parted ways,” Whincup recalls.
Jamie’s honest assessment of where he was at the end of 2003 saw him have to move out of his comfort zone and start pounding the pavement to try and re-establish himself in the V8 Supercars field.
“I was in big trouble. I am not a salesman and probably will never be. At the end of ‘03, I had to do the awkward and embarrassing thing of ringing up all the Team Owners trying to get a drive or at least try and get a test. I have always been very confident in my skill level behind the wheel, but it is that sales thing which I am not good at,” a very open Whincup said.
Kevin Murphy, father of Greg, was one of the Directors of Tasman Motorsport and offered Jamie a test in 2004. Whilst the drive did not eventuate that year, Murphy did recommend Whincup to Larry Perkins who had to find a partner for Alex Davison in the older model VX Commodore, the third of the Perkins Engineering Commodores for Sandown and Bathurst.
A solid Top 10 performance at Bathurst led to a full time drive with Tasman for 2005, arguably the saviour of Whincup’s Supercars career.
“Tasman wanted another driver, but Kevin rang Larry and Jim Richards. Whist Larry said I wasn’t very good, Jim said that from what he had seen I was a bloody good driver in an old model car. His comments basically convinced Kevin to give me the drive. I was no chance until Kevin spoke to Jim,” Jamie recalls.
“I had a great year at Tasman; 3rd at Sandown, 2nd at Bathurst and that opened up the opportunity with RD (Roland Dane). He was looking for a young driver, cheap, could stay out of trouble all year, team up with Lowndesy at Bathurst and win the race. So, that was the plan for me.”
I have always been very confident in my skill level behind the wheel, but it is that sales thing which I am not good at
2006 was the year that established Jamie Whincup as a Supercars Championship race winner and a Bathurst 1000 winner.
Whincup stunned the establishment by taking a 3rd place in the first race on Saturday at the Clipsal 500, then backing it up with a race win in the Sunday finale. The rest of the season was fairly lean on results until the Sandown 500 when he teamed up with Craig Lowndes to place 3rd then took one of the most emotional wins in Supercars history at the 2006 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Just four weeks earlier Peter Brock had been killed in a Targa event in Western Australia and the Bathurst 1000 was run not only as a tribute to Brock, but cast a heavy emotional cloud over the whole event. The most pressure and focus on any of the drivers was on Craig Lowndes: He was Brock’s protégé and was clearly taken back by the events of the previous month and the enormity of the event celebrating his life.
“I was still new and fresh,” Jamie recalls.
“It was all a bit of a blur. I still didn’t really know what Bathurst was all about and racing at the highest level of Touring Car racing was all about either. So, I was taking it all in but it wasn’t until I looked back to realise just that it was the most emotional event we have ever been involved in. 2006 was about Lowndesy and I feel like I really contributed that day, handing him back the car in the lead to him. I am bloody proud of the job that I did in helping Lowndesy win the greatest race of his career.”
IN PART TWO, Whincup discusses his elevation to become the most dominant force in Supercars history as the era of Triple Eight winning pretty much everything commenced..