Whincup: Championship battle still wide open
Jamie Whincup insists he remains far from comfortable at the top of the Supercars Championship standings despite drawing away to a 110 point lead.
The six-time champion has led the championship since Darwin, eking out the biggest advantage of the year to date with a run of four straight top four finishes.
Red Bull team-mate Shane van Gisbergen had closed the gap to just 41 points with victory on Saturday, before the margin blew out with the Kiwi’s troubled Race 17.
Whincup has publicly voiced his frustration at times this season, lamenting struggles to maximise results through a mix of set-up and communication issues on his side of the garage.
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The latter was a particular bone of contention in Townsville, where Whincup took a dominant Saturday win despite in-race friction with engineer David Cauchi.
Although pleased with progress at Ipswich, Whincup insists that his team must keep its head down as he chases his seventh title.
“We had a win in Townsville but it wasn’t our best job, we got a bit lucky,” Whincup reflected when asked of the championship picture after Ipswich.
“There’s obviously a lot of good that’s going on, there’s a lot of things that are in place for a reason over a long period of time.
“I feel over the weekend that we were as strong as we’ve ever been but we need to keep our head down and make sure we keep improving.
“The championship is absolutely wide open, it’s still a five or six horse race at least.
“There’s 900 points up for grabs at the endurance races. We’re nowhere near the finish.”
In addition to Prodrive’s Mark Winterbottom who currently sits third in points, Whincup’s biggest threats are coming from within his own team.
New-for-2016 recruit Van Gisbergen has proven blisteringly fast but trails Whincup due largely to a trio of mistakes, including his ill-timed decision to pit on Sunday.
Race 17 meanwhile saw Craig Lowndes assert his title credentials in the team’s third entry, moving to within 40 points of Van Gisbergen with a dominant win.
Extracting consistent speed from his Caltex Holden is the main target for Lowndes, who has started seven of the year’s 17 races from outside the top eight.
“There’s still a blanket over four or five cars that are up the front,” added fourth-placed Lowndes of the title equation.
“What we need to do is be more consistent. If we can’t win races we need to be on podiums or at least in the top five. We’re working on that side of it.
“On Sunday we had a perfect car and it’s not often you get something that easy to drive.
“You take that when you can, but Sydney Motorsport Park will be a completely different ball game.”
Scott McLaughlin and Will Davison are next behind Lowndes in the championship chase, now 285 and 336 points behind Whincup respectively.