With the dust settled on a thrilling Clipsal 500 to open the Supercars season, defending champion Shane van Gisbergen looks prepared to be as ruthless as ever in attempting to go back-to-back.
Last week, I wrote about Whincup and why no one would beat him in 2017 – I still think he is going to be at the top end of the field, but I might already be eating those words.
Whincup struggled in Adelaide, and it was mainly down to the dominance of Van Gisbergen, who drove aggressively and put the rest of the field on notice, particularly during Race 2.
In saying that, Whincup wasn’t the only one to struggle, as Van Gisbergen beat up the field with pace, aggression and brilliant driving to take two pole positions and win both races.
Nothing screams a strong start to the season like not losing anything (outside of practice sessions) on the opening race weekends, and everyone else is now playing catch-up. But being aggressive against Van Gisbergen is near impossible when he is driving at the top of his game, as proven on the weekend.
Van Gisbergen obviously takes the lead out of Adelaide and while that comes as no surprise, the defending champion looked like he is even hungrier for victory than last year.
The Kiwi’s status as one of the most aggressive drivers in the field was truly pronounced with his arrival at Triple Eight, a team set to be at the top of the tree one way or another in 2017 – as they have been for the last decade.
Van Gisbergen’s win on Saturday was just pure dominance as he blew past everyone, Fabian Coulthard a distant second, 15 seconds back.
Sunday was a hell of a lot tighter, but the end gap was still over ten seconds, with Van Gisbergen getting around Scott McLaughlin, who almost provided a victory for his DJR Team Penske, but was placed under too much pressure through the final laps.
For his part, Whincup struggled through the shootouts, eventually ending up with two 6th-placed finishes for the weekend.
In Adelaide, Whincup wasn’t good enough for a championship contender, even if there were off-track factors at play.
On the track, the question of intimidation has to be raised. Whincup is in the same garage as Van Gisbergen, and there were times last season the pair almost took each other out as the fight for the championship got hot. The Kiwi gives the impression that he will stop at nothing to win a championship, and if that means being aggressive against his own teammate, that’s exactly what he will do.
Whincup has long been the aggressor of the field, but he has also always been consistent on the track, which – until last season – was the missing ingredient for Van Gisbergen.
It seems Whincup is a different driver at the moment though, and since he’s in the same garage as the defending champion, it can’t possibly be blamed on the car – he has all the same technology and information available.
The difference between the pair and indeed the rest of the field to the New Zealander is the on-track aggression. Whincup looks, as he did at times last year, like he doesn’t want to be in the battle with Van Gisbergen.
Throughout Whincup’s storied career, we haven’t seen him knocked down a level, but in Adelaide he looked like a different driver.
As much as he wants to blame it on preparation, as he told the media, it’s going to take a lot of work from Whincup to get the No.88 car ahead of his teammate.