It was a day for legends of the Bathurst 1000. As a host of former greats looked on, Jamie Whincup joined them in the pantheon of Bathurst heroes with his fourth victory in the Great Race in just seven years.
Too add to the historic lustre of his win, Whincup did it in another legendary finish, holding off young charger David Reynolds in a tense nose-to-tail duel over the final 12 laps.
If last year’s late-race battle between Garth Tander and Craig Lowndes was thrilling, yesterday’s fight to the finish was enthralling – and almost as close.
Tander beat Lowndes in 2011 by just 0.29 seconds – the closest competitive finish in Bathurst 1000 history – and Whincup took the chequered flag ahead of Reynolds by a mere 0.31 seconds.
In a classic Holden versus Ford shootout, the knife-edge battle between the day’s fastest representatives of the Red and the Blue sides was the fitting end of an era.
It was the last Bathurst 1000 restricted to Commodores and Falcons before V8 Supercars is opened up in 2013 to other makes for the first time in almost two decades.
Yesterday’s race was a glimpse of the future of the new generation of dominant V8 drivers, with Whincup’s fourth triumph raising his already lofty status even further and Reynolds’s dogged pursuit confirming his arrival as an emerging star.
At 29, Whincup is already well on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats of Australian touring car racing with three V8 championships in the past four years and, after this latest Bathurst success, well on his way to capturing this year’s crown.
By winning another Bathurst 1000, he is elevated to an elite who have conquered the mountain marathon more than three times, joining Allan Moffat and Greg Murphy on the Peter Brock Trophy four times. The only drivers to have won more are Lowndes (5), Larry Perkins and Mark Skaife (6), Jim Richards (7) and Brock (9).
Whincup has many more years to build up his legacy.
As he crafted his narrow yet also commanding win, many Bathurst legends were at the track as VIP guests, invited as part of the week-long celebrations of 50 years of touring car endurance races at Mount Panorama.
At times, it was impossible to move through the area behind the garages without running into a luminary driver whose fame was enshrined by winning one or more Bathurst 500/1000s dating back to 1963.
Among them were Bob Jane, Harry Firth, Moffat, Dick Johnson, Richards, Perkins and Allan Grice, to name just some of the more colourful winners.
Lowndes, who is Whincup’s Triple Eight Holden teammate and now his closest rival in the V8 championship race, has no doubts that Whincup now ranks among the greats at Mount Panorama. ”I think so,” said Lowndes, whose late race charge from nowhere to third underlined his mastery of the mountain.
”There’s no doubt that he’s talented. Winning Bathurst is a team effort and the team came together today for the win. He’s a big part of that combination.”
Whincup, whose previous three wins from 2006-08 were as Lowndes’s junior co-driver, was ably supported by his new partner Paul Dumbrell, who retired from active V8 competition at the end of last season.
Together, they recovered from early tyre problems to work their way to the front, allowing Whincup to balance enough speed with conserving fuel to be in a position to keep Reynolds at bay despite relentless pressure.
It was another example of why he is the class of the V8 field, regularly recovering from setbacks to conjure triumphs from potential disasters.
He was humble in victory, demurring when the proposition of achieving Bathurst legend status was put to him.
”Hey, I’m not greedy,” he smiled. ”It’s the first time I’ve crossed the finish line as a Bathurst winner as opposed to watching Lowndesy do it when we won three in a row.
”I’m still only 29, so hopefully I’ve still got a few more years left in me to win some more Bathurst 1000s. Winning this race is life-changing. I’m sure once it sinks in, what winning this one means will hit me.
“But this must be right up there as the highlight of my career, no doubt.”
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