Jamie Whincup admits that he was extremely lucky to finish Race 17 of the Supercars Championship after the multi-car collision which badly wounded his car and hampered visibility.
Whincup ran fourth when the race restarted after a Safety Car period on Lap 20, but had nowhere to go when Scott McLaughlin turned around Whincup’s team-mate Shane van Gisbergen at Turn 2.
As the field checked up, David Reynolds crunched into the rear of McLaughlin’s DJR Team Penske Falcon, and Whincup likewise into the rear of Reynolds’ Erebus Motorsport Commodore.
The impact significantly creased the bonnet on Whincup’s Triple Eight Commodore and ripped open a front guard, exposing what had become a damaged right-front tyre.
The six-time Supercars champion said that he could not believe that the tyre did not blow out in the 11 laps of the race which remained, and conceded that the state of car #88 could have seen him issued a mechanical black flag.
“I was sure the tyre was going to blow out, (given) the amount of smoke that was pumping out,” explained Whincup.
“Coming on the straight I felt the brakes were coming on; every time we’d bounce it would bind up on the tyre and the brakes were coming on, so I was sure I was going to last two laps max.
“Somehow, someone was looking down on me and it lasted the full 11 (laps).
“I don’t want to say too much because I probably should have been black flagged.”
While the tyre did survive, Whincup also had to contend with significantly reduced visibility due to the bonnet damage which left him unable to see over the front of his Red Bull car.
So bad was the problem that he even admitted to running off the track while driving along the main straight as a result.
“I couldn’t see a thing. Coming down the straight I was on the grass; I didn’t know I was on the grass until I felt the car was wheel spinning and pointing sideways,” he added.
“Over the hill was shocking though; I was sort of pushing myself up as hard as I could in the seat, and looking over the top.
“I couldn’t see a thing; I was just looking at landmarks and trees and things around the track to try and get an idea of where I was.
“Thank god it’s a circuit we’ve been to a lot, because at a new circuit I would have been absolutely knackered.”
Triple Eight team manager Mark Dutton paid tribute to the durability of the cars which felt helped Whincup to the finish.
“You could see the tyre rubbing and there was people blowing tyres here without anything extra rubbing on the car, so we were very fortunate to finish,” Dutton told Speedcafe.com.
“The cars are well built and well prepared so that goes to show all that extra effort to sustain damage has paid off. It is a reflection of the effort that goes into the cars.”
The podium finish was a mixed blessing for Whincup, who had run an even-tyre strategy and thus sat immediately behind three cars with older tyres when the Safety Car closed up the field.
McLaughlin had pitted at the end of Lap 10, van Gisbergen Lap 11, and Reynolds Lap 12, while Whincup waited until the end of Lap 16 of the 31-lap encounter.
However, he never got the opportunity to attack for victory, losing position to eventual winner Fabian Coulthard before the end of the lap and later Chaz Mostert.
“I can’t remember the last time a Safety Car worked in my favour; I couldn’t believe it,” added Whincup.
“I was pretty keen; all of us had five lap better tyres that the guys in front and we were in the box seat for that race.
“(I’m) rapt to be third, but it could have been so much better at the same time.”
Whincup remains second in the championship but has reduced the deficit to McLaughlin to 78 points from 129 after the leader finished 10th courtesy of a 15 second time penalty for causing the spin.