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Texas Gives A Warm Welcome To V8 Aussies

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 19 2013

Jamie Whincup steered his way to a victory in Austin on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the Circuit of the Americas)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

AUSTIN, Texas – Jamie Whincup went 3 for 4 at Circuit of The Americas during the inaugural Texas 400 weekend, and the Australian V8 Supercars Championship superstar wasn’t too proud to admit that he was about chicken-fried.

“Crazy, crazy hot out there,” Whincup said after winning the fourth/final 27-lap sprint around COTA’s 2.4-mile, 17-turn short-course in ambient temperatures that reached the mid-90s. “I reckon like I lost six months of my life this weekend with the intensity. We always try to put on a bright face, but I admit I was pretty gone by the end. But yeah, all-in-all, couldn’t be happier with the weekend.”

With good reason. A unique format that called for two rounds of qualifying and racing on Saturday and Sunday saw Whincup sweep both 27-lappers Saturday after qualifying on-pole for Race No. 2/Round No. 14 of the schedule. Fabian Coulthard proved to be the spoiler, as he qualified on-pole for Saturday’s first race and won Sunday’s opening 27-lapper/Round No. 15.

Other than that, Whincup and his No. 1 Red Bull Racing Australia Holden Commodore VF were about as “money” as NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Whenever we go overseas the locals really look after us and put on a great event,” said Whincup, the four-time/reigning champion who now has won 19 of the last 28 series events held outside Australia dating to Bahrain in 2008. He’s also earned 12 of 24 poles during that span.

“I certainly like to step-up when the quality’s hot,” said Whincup, who exited Texas with his 70th career victory after punctuating his effort with a serious donut burnout. “We struggled early like we did in Race 2 (Round 14 on Saturday). We were massively vulnerable, so trying to keep track position was key. We managed to do that and then the car came good towards the end of the race.”

Whincup took the lead on Lap 22 when David Reynolds made a mandatory pit stop for tires on his No. 21 Wilson Security Holden. Whincup had pitted while in the lead on Lap 12.

“Yeah, we weren’t quite as pacey as what we were yesterday, but the track changed massively over the weekend,” said Whincup, whose margin of victory over Coulthard was 2.766-seconds. Shane Van Gisbergen finished third in his No. 97 TEKNO Team VIP Holden.

“What was good yesterday was no good today,” Whincup said. “The intensity behind the scenes to improve the cars on this new circuit was crazy with the engineers and then on-track it was seriously hard work.”

Similarly, a week-long, off-track public relations blitz involving many of the 28 series regulars resulted in an announced three-day attendance of 68,891 fans. COTA officials reported that approximately nine percent of fans purchasing tickets in advance came from Australia. COTA sold tickets in more than 30 states, including Texas.

“I think the number is a good indication that it went well…a good indication we’ll come back again next year,” Whincup said. “We’ll change it up a bit. Maybe we’ll throw some soft tires on, maybe we’ll take the mufflers off. We can do plenty of things to spice-it-up for next year. Good learning experience, fantastic weekend.”

Teams were limited to a hard-compound “control” tire by Dunlop throughout on a surface that saw its first racing activity during the Formula One United States Grand Prix in November.

“I think if we come back with soft tires it’ll be a good improvement,” said Coulthard, driver of the No. 14 Lockwood Racing Holden. “We always thought the degradation level of the control tire that we normally run would have been a lot more, so to spice-up the racing I think a soft tire would make the racing more exciting and see a little bit more action.”

Coulthard – who finished third in both of Saturday’s races – outran Craig Lowndes of Red Bull Racing in Sunday’s first race (Round 15), while Whincup slumped to third.

“I knew the car wasn’t perfect yesterday and when it’s not perfect you better get the points and capitalize on the day you’re having,” said Coulthard, who planned to celebrate his third career win and cap his American holiday at the 97th Indianapolis 500 next Sunday. “Today, to win the race was awesome. When you’re at the front leading it’s a little bit easier because you don’t have to deal with hot brakes and things like that. I just have to keep winning.”

Whincup now leads new championship runnerup/RBR teammate Lowndes by 142 points. Will Davison, driver of the No. 6 Pepsi Max Crew FPR Ford Falcon, dropped to third and 218 points behind the leader following a DNF/last-place finish. Davison’s race ended after contact on Lap 3 disabled his Falcon.

Whincup and his podium pals saluted the fans post-race by posing for a photo behind a sign that read: V8 Supercars Thanks the People of Texas.

“V8 Supercars lived up to its billing for dynamic racing and a fan-friendly environment _ and we had some die-hard fans here given the very warm temperatures,” Steve Sexton, COTA president/CEO, said in a statement. “Our Australian visitors were good sports and loads of fun, and we’re glad  that people from around the world had a chance to visit Central Texas and our new state-of-the art facility.”

Californian James Sofronas earned his third Pirelli World Challenge GT win of the season Sunday in the Cadillac Sports Car Challenge support race. Andy Lee, meanwhile, rolled to his first GTS class win of 2013.

Motul Polesitter Johnny O’Connell – winner of Saturday’s GT event – fell out on Lap 3 with a steering issue, handing the lead to teammate Andy Pilgrim’s No. 8 Cadillac Racing CTS-V.R. Pilgrim stayed on-point until Lap 8, when Sofronas steered his No. 14 GMG/Mobil 1 Audi R8 into the lead.

“We were really good in the high-speed Esses,” said Sofronas, who scored his seventh career win. “He (Pilgrim) was braking into the Esses. I was able to roll into them and carry momentum without hitting the brakes. So, I was creeping up on him, putting a little pressure on him. We were coming into the last turn in the complex and, next thing I know, he had a little hiccup. I just kept my foot in it and was able to get around him. I think it was some kind of bobble or a mistake, or his car cut-out, but that’s all I needed. My guys gave me splits and I just put my head down.”

Pilgrim, who overcame a stall at the start of Saturday’s race to finish third, earned his third-consecutive podium and moved into second in the championship, behind Sofronas. Randy Pobst, who struggled en route to a fourth-place result Saturday, finished third to record his second podium of the season in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing/Volvo S60.

In GTS, Lee started from the Motul Pole in his No. 20 Best IT Chevrolet Camaro en route to the fifth win of his career. Lee finished 20th overall in a field of 46.

Despite starting from P1, Lee followed Saturday winner Lawson Aschenbach and his No. 9 Blackdog Speed Shop Camaro for much of the race until a Lap 25 restart, when Aschenbach and Nic Jonsson tangled in Turn 1. That handed Lee a lead he did not relinquish. Mark Wilkins, driver of the No. 22 Kia Motors America/Kia Optima ,and road-racing veteran Jack Baldwin, driver of the No. 73 Motul/Stop Tech/Foametix Porsche Cayman, completed the podium.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 19 2013
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