Let’s not muck around here. Jamie Whincup is a champion – one of the best drivers to have ever pushed a pedal in anger throughout Supercars history and there will be no stopping him in 2017.
Racing for the all-conquering Triple Eight racing team, Whincup has, by his standards – and let’s make that very clear – had a couple of quiet years with results that he would like to improve on for the upcoming season.
Of course, winning a championship in 2014 before finishing fifth in 2015 and second in 2016 is not a bad couple of results in anyone’s book, but for Whincup it’s only going to increase the motivation to go out and win a seventh title – breaking his own record which he set in 2014.
In another show of the consistency Whincup has managed to hold across his tenure in Supercars, his fifth place finish in 2015 was the only time he has been out of the top two in the championship standings since 2007.
For a man who is used to winning, it wouldn’t matter what circumstances are put in front of him for the upcoming season – he is going to be very difficult to beat.
Given the championship went to his teammate last year, the aggressive Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen, he will be frustrated that despite being in the same garage he couldn’t find the pace to match it with Van Gisbergen on multiple occasions, leaving him staring at second place in the Championship.
Van Gisbergen is again going to be his biggest adversary in 2017, with Triple Eight the dominant team in Australian Touring Cars and no one else coming close.
While Prodrive, DJR Team Penske and Walkinshaw Motorsport (formerly HRT) are among the other teams with the possibility to improve, reaching the level of Triple Eight – who were over 2,000 points clear of the HRT last season in the teams’ championship is going to be near on impossible.
Before I sat down to write this article, the only reason I could come up with why Whincup shouldn’t be the man backed to take the crown in 2017 was luck. There’s a fair bit of that in motorsport, don’t get me wrong, but for Whincup to not take the 2017 Championship with the best team in the business, it’s going to take a whole lot of good driving and luck for others – mainly Van Gisbergen to make it happen.
Whincup could point the finger at a few cruel turns of fate as to why he didn’t win the Championship last season. The biggest of those was his penalty at Bathurst, which cost him 11 positions in the biggest race of the year.
Given he finished 200 points off the pace, a difference of 156 there would have made things a hell of a lot closer when the series got down to business at the Sydney 500, and who knows how the pressure would have affected his teammate from there.
Whincup also struggled with his car at the Clipsal 500, Symmons Plains, the second race at Barbagallo and Sandown, while he also cost himself 75 points at Pukekohe Park in the third race.
On a weekend where he was dominant and looking to close the gap, winning two of the four races and finishing second in the other, he crashed during the third, dropping down the field to 25th and allowing Van Gisbergen to skip away with the points.
So, there is no questioning exactly why Whincup went down last year. He still won races, he started on the front row more often than not and has consistently good results, but the pressure applied by Van Gisbergen seemed to rattle him at times.
You can bet a full off-season of working on the No.88 car though will see Whincup back to his best this season and if he can get off to a strong start in Adelaide, as well as hold his own at Sandown and Bathurst then he will fly away.
The fact Van Gisbergen was able to go into the Sydney 500 with such a huge lead last year, only needing a decent weekend to win the championship, meant there was really no other way it was going to play out, unless he put his car into a wall.
Given the luck Whincup had along the way, winning seven individual races and finishing on the podium a further ten times was a staggering effort and probably shows he is still the best driver in the field.
While you don’t want to write everyone off before we have even reached the first corner at the Clipsal 500, it feels like the season’s winner is a foregone conclusion.
It’s going to be the year of Jamie Whincup and like it or not, a seventh championship awaits.