Would the real V8 contenders please stand up?

Speedcafe.com

Monday 28th February, 2011 - 9:16am

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If the 2011 V8 Supercars Champion in this group of men?

If the 2011 V8 Supercars Champion in this group of men?

Just as he did in 2010, Jamie Whincup left the opening pair of races at the Yas Marina Circuit leading the V8 Supercars Championship – and despite not quite matching his two wins-from-two starts effort of last year, I can’t help but wonder if his combined first and third place results left him feeling pretty damn pleased with his championship start.

Why so, you might ask?

Well, take a look at the championship points and where his closest and most likely challengers are currently positioned. The best of them is FPR’s Mark Winterbottom who sits fourth, just behind SBR’s Shane van Gisbergen and while ‘The Giz’ could well be a genuine chance this year, he’s still yet to score his first race victory. If he is to be considered a challenger to Whincup, he will need to win regularly.

The start of Race 2 at Yas Marina Circuit

The start of Race 2 at Yas Marina Circuit

Winterbottom’s fourth spot may look like he’s in the hunt – and he is – but ‘Frosty’ left Yas last year in second spot, just 33 points behind the TeamVodafone dual title winner. Compare that with the current points deficit of 87 points between P1 and P4 and you will start to see what I mean about Jamie’s mindset.

I doubt Whincup will be getting cocky at all and with 25 races still left to run it’s way too early to write off anybody’s championship chase, including those exciting new names who have started so well and earned their way into the top order.

It’s great to see Alex Davison in second, David Reynolds in fifth and Michael Caruso sixth. These three, who along with Fabian Coulthard and Jonathon Webb are sitting pretty in the top 10. However, there are just two career wins spread across all five drivers, so a championship challenge from any of them will be a big ask.

Of the drivers who would consider themselves a genuine title chance, Craig Lowndes is 10th – 141 points behind his championship-leading team mate, James Courtney 12th, 152 points adrift, while Will Davison sits 14th, Lee Holdsworth 16th and Garth Tander 21st.

At the same time last year, Lowndes was third in the points, Courtney fifth and Holdsworth sixth … maybe that’s why Lee was so upset at Will Davison after Race 2?

No, it’s not over, not by a long shot – but when you consider last year’s title was decided by 55-points after a total of 26 races, you can see why Whincup can feel mighty pleased with how the two Abu Dhabi races panned out … and remember, he had car speed to burn all weekend.

The title cannot be won at the next event on the streets of the Adelaide Parklands Circuit, but it could quite easily be lost.

If any of those fancying themselves to be a part of this year’s title-race fail to score a swag of points it could be a very long season for them indeed. And if Whincup manages to snare a couple of further podiums while his most likely challengers stumble … even longer again?

Early season success usually translates to a solid year as the pressure eases on those who strike early. Conversely, those who fail to kick-off their year in good shape have to contend with the added pressure of not putting a foot wrong at the Clipsal 500, and, on one of (if not the most) demanding circuits on the schedule.

To add further fuel to that argument just take a look at the top 10 drivers points positions at the completion of last year’s opening pair of races and compare that form with the season-ending tally.

2010 Championship after Event 1 Final 2010 Championship Positions
1. Whincup 1.    Courtney
2. Winterbottom 2.    Whincup
3. Lowndes 3.    Winterbottom
4. Van Gisbergen 4.    Lowndes
5. Courtney 5.    Tander
6. Holdsworth 6.    Van Gisbergen
7. Rick Kelly 7.    Holdsworth
8. Dumbrell 8.    Rick Kelly
9. Johnson 9.    Dumbrell
10. Webb 10.  Johnson

Of the 10 drivers finishing the year in the top 10 points positions, nine of those who were there after the first two races, were also evident at season’s end … albeit, in changed order. Only Tander coming in and ‘Jono’ Webb dropping out altered the fundamental make-up of the top 10, which makes the next event the single-most important race of the year for those looking to get their championship assault back on track.

Tander did it best last year and will be looking to do the same again, while the intrigue has intensified further still with so many fancied runners getting off to a relatively poor start at the opening pair of races.  Of course, those drivers – specifically the newer names mentioned above – who currently occupy top 10 points positions will be hoping that same form prevails come season’s end.  But they will have to fight for it, because they will now go into the Clipsal 500 double-header without the luxury of the two additional 30 minute practice sessions reserved for those outside the top 50 percent in the pointscore.

The pressure is well and truly on and should Jamie Whincup read this edition of ‘Speed Talk’ he might just be surprised at the level of success he actually attained while in the United Arab Emirates – but then again, I sense he might just be well and truly on top of it all.

Challengers, where are you?

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