Six-time Champion Jamie Whincup returned to his winning ways this weekend at the ITM 500 Auckland, taking out the coveted Jason Richards Memorial Trophy.
While he might be out of contention for this year's Championship, Whincup showed he is still a force to be reckoned with after a commanding victory in today’s 200km feature race at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
“It was a great day,” beamed Whincup.
“Yesterday was the best day I’ve ever had in New Zealand, and I topped it today.”
Whincup is now the third man to win the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy, named after the late Kiwi driver who succumbed to cancer in 2011.
Whincup admitted to being emotional after the win, as he and ‘JR’ were teammates at now defunct Tasman Motorsport in 2005.
“For me, it’s all about the JR Trophy. We were teammates, we were good mates, first podium, first Bathurst podium,” Whincup said.
“I haven’t won much this year, but it’s a good year knowing the JR Trophy is in the cabinet.”
Three Kiwis finished in the top-10 although none troubled the podium, after pole-setter Scott McLaughlin lost out in the pit strategies and had to be content with sixth.
Fabian Coulthard looked fast but his chances were dented when he got stuck behind a doubled stacked Holden Racing Team, eventually finishing seventh.
Shane van Gisbergen was also caught in the double-stack in his team but finished strongly for ninth while Andrew Heimgartner managed 21st.
Van Gisbergen has the mantle of leading Kiwi in fifth in the championship with Coulthard just 17 points adrift in sixth while McLaughlin moves into the top-10 for the first time, and Heimgartner is 23rd.
Second place man Lowndes was lucky just to be on the track after his rear tyre exploded yesterday sending his car crashing into the pit straight wall.
His car was taken to a local smash repair shop before returning to the track where his team worked through the night to repair it.
“This second place is all about the team,” Lowndes said.
“They did an all-nighter and it’s rare to get a car that’s stripped apart then runs faultlessly.
“My number one (mechanic) said he fell asleep in the shower!”
DJR Team Penske driver Scott Pye finished third, taking his first career podium, and the first for the team, in the process.
Making it even sweeter for Pye was that he did it in front of team boss Roger Penske.
“There’s a big part of me that is saying that it was great that he (Penske) was here to see that,” said an ecstatic Pye.
“He was extremely happy. He had a big smile on (his face).
“To get the champagne, I hope the boys really appreciate that, because when we reflect on where we have come from this year, it is a big turnaround.
“I am excited about the future and looking forward to seeing what we can do next year.”
Drama hit Championship leader Mark Winterbottom, who spun on lap two and re-joined at the back of the field.
Winterbottom carved through the field and managed to come home 11th.
He continues to lead the Championship, now by 239 to Reynolds with Lowndes one point behind him in third place.
V8 Supercars now head to the WD-40 Phillip Island 400 on November 20-22.
A total crowd of 116,554 people have attended this year’s ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
V8 Supercars Chief Executive James Warburton said the attendance was up for each day of this year’s three-day event. 33,451 attended on Friday, 42,978 on Saturday and 40,125 on Sunday.
“We are delighted with the increases in this year’s attendance across each day of the event. It’s another endorsement of V8 Supercars and the great entertainment it offers fans on and off the track,” he said.
“I want to thank Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and all our partners, in particular ITM, for their support of this event. Our teams and drivers love coming to Pukekohe and racing at this historic circuit.
“I also want to thank the people of New Zealand who are among the most knowledgeable and passionate motor sport fans in the world.
"They’ve enjoyed great entertainment on and off the track this weekend including the True Colour Track Walk where thousands of fans were able to get up close and personal with the drivers and their cars on the grid.”
V8 Supercars larrikin David Reynolds has taken a gritty win this afternoon at the ITM 500 in Auckland, following a catastrophic tyre failure for Championship contender Craig Lowndes.
“It was like a missile hit his car and exploded,” said Reynolds of Lowndes’ 230km/h incident.
“I was a bit scared when it happened, but as soon as I knew he was OK we were good to go, and I was first.”
As a result of the win, Reynolds has jumped to second place in the Championship behind his Prodrive Racing teammate Mark Winterbottom.
There were two Kiwis on the podium with Shane van Gisbergen second in race 28 and fifth in race 29, while Scott McLaughlin was third in race 298 after placing ninth in the earlier race.
It was a tougher day for Fabian Coulthard with a 23rd placing after being knocked off the track in the first race and a much improved ninth under soft tyres in the second.
Super Black Racing’s Andre Heimgartner was 19th and 18th in his two races.
In the championship race, van Gisbergen now moves ahead of Coulthard into fifth and sixth respectively, McLaughlin remains 11th and Heimgartner22nd.
Reynolds now believes he can challenge for the Championship win, and potentially take the number one plate to his new-for-2016 team, Erebus Motorsport.
“There’s 750 points up for grabs, and I’m 287 behind – not that I’m counting,” said Reynolds.
“Anything can happen,” he said. “It’s definitely possible.”
Reynolds had a sensational battle with six-time Champion Jamie Whincup late in the last race of the day, with both men enjoying the challenge.
“It was a great day, my car was really fast,” said Whincup, who won the first race of the day – his first since Sydney Motorsport Park in August.
“Lowndesy spinning off at the front was nuts. It was just like Super Mario Kart
"It was good to hear that he was alright.”
Whincup has now been mathematically ruled out of Championship contention, 771 points behind Mark Winterbottom with only 750 remaining to be won. He was philosophical about the prospect of handing over his number one status.
“I’ve had a good day,” Whincup said.
“Maybe I won’t have as good a day when I realise that I’m going to have to hand that number one over to someone else, but I’ve had a fantastic four years representing it.”
“I’ll happily hand it over to the guy that deserves it the most.”
Local favourite McLaughlin finished the final race in third place, to the cheers of the supportive Pukekohe crowd.
“It was pretty cool. I’ve never seen a crowd so happy about a person finishing third. They were going off,” said McLaughlin.
“It was an awesome race. That last battle (between Reynolds and Whincup) was really cool, and I had box seats for it.”
“I was hoping they’d be side by side for a bit longer and I could creep up on them, but it was good racing.”
Whincup leads the race for the Jason Richards Trophy - awarded to the best driver at the New Zealand event - with qualifying and a single 200km race ahead tomorrow.
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