The qualities that made retiring legend Whincup a Supercars great
Jamie Whincup hung up his helmet at the conclusion of the 2021 Australian Supercars season. Well, sort of. In a Supercars-specific quirk he’ll probably be back as a co-driver at the Bathurst 1000, so his driving career isn’t completely over.
But the point is he’s no longer a Supercars full-timer – last year’s Great Race represented the end of the greatest driving career in Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercars/Supercars history. Whincup retires with 124 race wins, 237 podiums, 92 poles and seven titles, each a category record. His Bathurst 1000 tally is seen as his greatest ‘weakness’ thanks to some high-profile failures on Australia’s biggest racing stage, but the reality is he’s still a four-time Bathurst winner. Only six drivers have won more.
Remarkably, Whincup’s record-breaking Supercars career started with a stumble. After a brilliant stint in karting and winning the hotly contested Australian Formula Ford Championship, his dream promotion to the big league in 2003 with Garry Rogers Motorsport turned into a nightmare.
After a tough year spent mostly in the outdated VX Commodore, Whincup was unceremoniously dumped by GRM. It wasn’t until 2005 that he got his second chance with Tasman Motorsport, which opened the door for him the following season to join a relatively new team – Triple Eight – with its sights set firmly on the big guns.
Over the years that followed, Whincup became the category’s new benchmark, a hard worker and ruthless, uncompromising winner. How did he do it? We asked some key rivals and his title-winning engineer.
Tander beat former team-mate Whincup to 2007 crown, but the Walkinshaw-run factory Holden team was soon surpassed by Triple Eight as Whincup began his run of titles in 2008
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Garth Tander – GRM team-mate, then beat Whincup to the 2007 title
“I knew he was good pretty early on, even before we were team-mates at Garry Rogers Motorsport. When he was in Formula Ford in 2002 we were keeping an eye on him, because he was sponsored by Valvoline and there was a connection there.
“Formula Ford back then was like the world championship – it was so competitive. And he qualified on pole at Winton by something like a second. We were like, ‘Far out, how did he do that?’ That was the moment I realised he was special.
“He jumped in the Supercar at the end of that year for a test and he could just do it. You can always tell when a driver jumps in a Supercar for the first time if they can do it or not. And he just did it. I was like, ‘Yeah, OK, this guy has got something.’ When we were team-mates at GRM in 2003 I was like, ‘I’m not going to let this young guy show me up.’ I wouldn’t say I was ruthless with him, but I was competitive.
“A lot of people told me that about him before I went to Triple Eight, how impressive [his attention to detail] is. As a driver you always think your own preparation and own attention to detail is pretty good. But his is exceptional” Garth Tander
“Anyway, he was on a hiding to nothing in that first year. I was in the new VY Commodore and the VX he was in wasn’t any good even when it was new. Eventually we built a second VY and he got in one for the last couple of rounds, and he was immediately on the same pace as me. But Garry had made up his mind by that stage. It was a tough year for Jamie. It was old-school Garry; make the guy work hard for it. And it didn’t work for either party.
“I know you always think your period was the golden period of racing, but the battle between Walkinshaw and Triple Eight between 2006 and 2009 was as intense as it has ever been in Australian motorsport, I think. That’s what laid the groundwork for what Jamie went on to achieve, because the intensity and the work required to beat each other was immense. It was TWR versus Triple Eight and it was hardcore. The teams wanted to beat each other desperately and that filtered down to the drivers.
“We still talk about how intense it was and reminisce about it fondly. He probably reminisces about 2007 less fondly than me, but I won the battle and he won the war. Maybe he figured out how to win the championship by coming up a little bit short that year.
Tander relished the fight with Whincup across the Ford-Holden divide before Triple Eight switched to Holden for 2010
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“The thing about Jamie is his attention to detail. A lot of people told me that about him before I went to Triple Eight, how impressive it is. As a driver you always think your own preparation and own attention to detail is pretty good. But his is exceptional. I now know what it means to drive a Triple Eight car because the attention to detail in it is remarkable. And from what you hear, he’s been a big part of that.
“His speed is good, it’s impressive. And it’s relentless, that’s the big thing. But it’s the little 1%ers… we all talk about 1%ers, but he would break them down to 0.5%ers.
“The thing that always impressed me so much is that after he won six titles, the intensity and desire to win the seventh was as strong as ever. To keep that up for that long is pretty impressive.
“I spoke to him after Bathurst last year and I said, ‘What do you reckon? How do you feel?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m ready.’ For him to have that realisation two hours after getting out of the car, that would be quite refreshing, I would have thought.”
Davison, pictured giving chase to Whincup at Symmons Plains in 2009, says his rival was relentless in ironing out mistakes
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Will Davison – Best friend, Supercars title rival in 2009
“We’ve had so many fights over the years. Jamie races hard. He’s always been a… controlled loose unit. I think that’s the best way to describe him. He’s a freestyler, he’s never held back. Whenever he’s overstepped the mark, he’s the first one to admit it. But it hasn’t happened often, he’s very fair. For somebody that goes so hard, whether it’s his normal driving style or attack mode in a race, he’s got a good, clean quality about him. He likes to win fair.
“He’s had so much pace his whole career. A lot of pace, a career of car speed. But car speed is only one thing. He’s a bit like Lewis Hamilton. It’s fine being in superior equipment but you’ve got to maximise every single opportunity and every single lap that you have in that equipment. They’ve both had team-mates in the same equipment that don’t have the same CV.
“Jamie is smart. Of course he’s had weaknesses, but he would fix them. If he ever makes a mistake, he never makes it again. And on the days you take more risks than him, because you’ve got less to lose, he’ll put his ego aside and know he’s being the bigger person. The reason he’s won so many championships is because he’s smart – he knows when to go hard and he knows when he shouldn’t.
“He’s just relentless when you’re behind him. I’ve had a lot of second places to him. I’d drive the race of my life and I’d be right with him, but he just wouldn’t blink” Will Davison
“He can be looser than anyone, even in his everyday life. And I mean looser as a compliment, not in a bad way. He does crazy stuff. He’s as crazy as anyone in the right way. And he controls it well. It doesn’t matter if you’re water skiing, on a snowboard, on a dirt bike, on a mountain bike, whatever. He’s doing something crazier than anyone else, and in a skilful way. And that’s how he drives a racing car.
“I first raced him in karts. He was a freestyler in karts, but so skilful and never dumb. He would just never give up. You’d pass him but you’d know he was going to find a way back. And it would be what you’d least expect. You’d think he was going to do a switchback up the inside and he’d go around the outside. He was so hard to predict and so hard to beat.
“In 2009 we had some great battles going for the Supercars championship. There were times when you’d least expect him to make a mistake, and he did. There were other times when the going got tough and he went to a new level.
Davison (left, with Whincup and Chaz Mostert at Queensland in 2019) has utmost respect for his friend’s achievements
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“We fought each other hard. It was difficult as mates. There were some heated moments and wild battles, but a lot of respect. There were times we’d look at each other on the podium and we both knew we’d pushed each other to the limit.
“He’s just relentless when you’re behind him. I’ve had a lot of second places to him. I’d drive the race of my life and I’d be right with him, but he just wouldn’t blink.
“One that stands out is Adelaide in 2011. It was wet, very awkward conditions. We were on slicks at the start. We must have passed and repassed each other 15 times. That’s one of the most memorable races we had, unreal. It was loose and that’s how he loves it. The looser the conditions, you see him getting more excited each lap.
“Like a lunatic on a jet ski, the more shit gets crazy, the more excited he gets and the harder he pushes. It has led to some phenomenal performances.”
Engineer Dutton cites Whincup’s strength on new tracks, including Abu Dhabi and COTA, as an example of his quality
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Mark Dutton – Five titles as Whincup’s engineer; Triple Eight team manager since 2014
“There are a few great races that stick in my mind from Jamie’s career, although there are too many to remember them all. One that always stands out is Adelaide 2012, race one. Just after his father had passed away. That’s his most special win, I reckon.
“He had to do all the work; we did the extra stop strategy because it was going to be a fuel race. Instead of conserving we decided to do the extra stop, and told Jamie, ‘You have to do quali lap after quali lap after quali lap if you want to win this thing.’ And he did. That one was spectacular.
“There are other ones where people don’t really see it, but you can see the brilliance from the engineering seat. One of his Sandown 500 wins, for example. He was gapping the field, conserving fuel, looking after the tyres, just doing everything. And when I say saving fuel I mean a lot of it, but still gapping the field at an amazing rate. It was one of those ones where you go, ‘How is he doing all of that at once? That’s pretty cool.’ People can see the gapping but they can’t see the fuel usage. They would think he’s going flat-out, but he wasn’t.
“Whenever we rolled up to a brand-new circuit, where nobody had set foot – Abu Dhabi, Circuit of The Americas, all those places – he would just clean up. We prided ourselves on that” Mark Dutton
“There have been some special ones like that. Bathurst 2012, that’s another. How tight we were on fuel… we’d use a bit too much on one lap, save a bit the next lap, it was on the razor edge. But he managed it.
“And Townsville in 2012, when Vodafone was on the way out as our main sponsor and we were talking to Red Bull about taking over. Roland [Dane, team boss] came in and said, ‘Guys, this is an important race. We need to win this one. We’ve needed to win races in the past, but this one… this is a big deal because we’re trying to sign a new sponsor.’
“It put a lot of pressure on us. It ended up being another fuel race and from memory we had Mark Winterbottom on our tail. All year ‘Frosty’ had been burning out his tyres but in this race he didn’t. He didn’t drop away, which meant we couldn’t conserve as much fuel as we wanted. And at the same time he was right on Jamie’s bumper, so he was saving fuel by being in the draft. But Jamie got it done. There are those results where not everybody knows the back story or understands the context. But they were a big deal.
“Another thing about Jamie is that he was always a new-track specialist. That was always a lot of fun. Whenever we rolled up to a brand-new circuit, where nobody had set foot – Abu Dhabi, Circuit of The Americas, all those places – he would just clean up. We prided ourselves on that. After a while it became an expectation and that put some pressure on him as well, but he always dealt it.”
McLaughlin worked hard to usurp Whincup as Supercars’ top dog before departing for IndyCar
Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images
Scott McLaughlin – Supercars title rival 2017
“Jamie was at his peak when I came into Supercars full-time in 2013. He’d just come off winning Bathurst in 2012 and had won four titles in five years. He was the big dog.
“I remember Queensland Raceway that year, when I took my second Supercars win. I got the jump on him at the start and he followed me for thirty-something laps. About a second back, the whole time. He never let go.
“I could tell he was trying things. That’s something he does so well compared to other drivers. And that’s something I learned from him. He thinks, he reacts to things you do, he attacks you when he thinks you’re vulnerable. He’ll back off when he knows he can’t get you and then come back at you again. He makes you think about things. You have to be thorough and accurate when you’re racing him.
“If I got a bad start I dropped my head and would dwell on it for the rest of the race. But Jamie never did that. He just got on with it. If you want to be a pure race driver, that’s who you should base yourself off” Scott McLaughlin
“I learned a lot from racing Jamie, particularly from how professional he was both on track and off it. He stuck to himself a little bit and showed that, you know, there’s no friends out there but you can be respectful. I ended up doing that a little bit, I separated myself a bit from a lot of the drivers and focused on myself and making myself and my team better. He did that as well.
“He put a book out earlier in his career and I remember key things from it, like how he prepared his race boots and so on. I know a lot of it could be bullshit, but I felt like I learned a few things about how he works and attached it to my driving.
“In 2017 we were the main guys. There were people in contention, but we were the main dudes for the whole season. It was back and forth. He’d lead the championship, then I’d lead the championship, all the way to the last lap. It was an unreal battle and when I lost the championship on the last lap it hurt me, but it changed me forever. I grew as a race driver from that. That Newcastle race is one that defines me. And I put a lot of that down to Jamie, because he never gave up.
Retrospective: When an unlosable Supercars title was lost
McLaughlin’s late capitulation in Newcastle cost him the 2017 title to ruthless Whincup
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“It was the same for me from then onwards. Every point counted; every little bit counted. Before that I took too much for granted. If I got a bad start I dropped my head and would dwell on it for the rest of the race. But Jamie never did that. He just got on with it. If you want to be a pure race driver, that’s who you should base yourself off.
“What I loved about the rivalry with Jamie was that, yeah, we had a few blues, but it was never like we’d go to the next race and not talk to each other. We’d just get on with it, or text or call during the week. We didn’t hold grudges, we just got on with it.
“He never faded, he retired at the perfect time. And I really mean that. Shane van Gisbergen had it on him in 2021, but it was close in 2019 and 2020. He’s still very capable, he just has more outside influences now. He’s having a kid, he’s got business interests, and he also owns and runs the team. There’s only so much you can do and still put enough into driving the car. And it’s unrealistic to think you can do everything.
“But at his peak, there was never any bullshit, no outside influences, he was just a Supercars driver. And he was awesome.”
Whincup at his peak was a force to behold, and McLaughlin believes he picked the right time to stop
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January 15, 2022 at 10:42AM