Win for van Gisbergen as Whincup takes title
Flying Kiwi Shane Van Gisbergen bookended his V8 Supercars campaign with stunning victories, yet there was effectively only one winner at the Sydney 500 as Jamie Whincup claimed his fifth championship to join the pantheon of Australian motorsport greats.
Pole sitter Van Gisbergen crashed the podium at Sydney Olympic Park to mark his 200th career Supercars start in style, yet the kudos was reserved for Whincup, the 30-year-old Queenslander who won his third straight title by a comfortable 128-point margin over teammate Craig Lowndes.
Whincup essentially wrapped up the title for Red Bull Racing by claiming yesterday's opening 250km race - his 11th win of the season - but his competitive streak was still evident in the finale as he battled to finish third.
Lowndes was the only rival who could catch Whincup around Sydney's Olympic Stadium but had to settle for silver after placing fifth.
Will Davison was third overall and the leading Ford driver, 295 points adrift of Whincup.
Van Gisbergen, who took the chequered flag 1.947 secs ahead of Jason Bright, started the weekend in seventh on the ladder but improved to fifth thanks to a third place in race one and the fourth win of his seven-year Supercars career.
He won the series-opening Clipsal 500 in March but then had to wait to race 36 - to top the podium a second time in 2013.
"It's been a pretty up and down year but this is a great way to finish it," said the 24-year-old, who controversially joined Tekno Autosports this year from Stone Brothers Racing after he had apparently retired.
"The car's awesome, it's great," the Aucklander added after climbing down from the roof of his Holden Commodore.
Whincup, meanwhile, joins the late Ian Geoghegan, Dick Johnson and Mark Skaife as the only five-time champions in Australian touring car history.
"It's unbelievable. It's just a huge team effort. Number five .... I can't believe it," he said.
Van Gisbergen ripped through qualifying to earn his fourth pole of the year and in stark contrast to a combative display he employed a restrained race plan.
After powering into clear air from turn one, Van Gisbergen maintained his lead before pitting on lap 21, one of the last drivers to make the first of two compulsory stops.
He regained the lead after exciting pit lane and then engaged in a frantic duel with Jason Bright after working his way back into podium contention after his final tyre change and refuel on lap 51 of 74.
Van Gisbergen overhauled Bright on lap 64 without incident - the drama unfolded in the Kiwi's slipstream.
Typically Whincup opted not to indulge in a Sunday drive to the title and risked a cataclysmic DNF when making contact with Bright as Van Gisbergen steered clear.
Had Whincup crashed, Lowndes would have won his first championship since 1999 because he finished fifth.
"I know I only needed to finish 18th, I just couldn't help myself and has to race right to the end," Whincup admitted.
New Zealand's Fabian Coulthard recorded the best overall placing of his six-year stint in Supercars though the final round was a frustrating experience.
On track to protect his fifth place on the standings, Coulthard was bumped off the podium in race one when Van Gisbergen nudged him into a wall on the penultimate lap.
He only qualified 13th on the grid today and lost another dozen places on the opening lap - leaving the England-born Aucklander too much ground to place high enough to maintain fifth though sixth was a significant improvement on his previous best of 11th in 2012.
The 31-year-old who recorded the first wins of his Supercars career at Tasmania and Austin, Texas, years toiled unobtrusively to cross 15th.
Scott McLaughlin was three spots better off in 12th, enough to push him into 10th overall.
The rookie, who became the youngest ever V8 Supercars race winner at Pukekohe in April when aged 19, only made it to the 10th lap yesterday before his Holden Commodore broke down so had happier memories second time round.