MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia — Blog by Race Chaser Online V8 Supercars Correspondent James Pike — Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images AsiaPac photo —
Before heading full-swing into coverage of the 2015 V8 Supercars Championship, Race Chaser Online is taking one last look back at the 2014 season to honor the top performers and moments from last year’s thrilling journey.
Here are our “Golden Kangaroos” for 2014:
Top Joey (Rookie of the Year) — Nick Percat, Walkinshaw Racing
Nick Percat has had the talent to perform at a high level in the V8 Supercars Championship for some time. The problem is that a ride hasn’t opened up for him yet. Or rather, hadn’t opened up for him until this season.
The XX year-old landed a brand new ride with James Rosenberg Racing (running as a REC team out of the Walkinshaw Racing shop) and posted14 top ten finishes and two podiums (a second place finish in the Sunday race at Sydney Motorsport Park and a third-place finish at Bathurst) in 2014.
Though Rosenberg opted not to renew his REC for 2015, Lucas Dumbrell took note of Percat’s performances and hired him as the replacement for Russell Ingall. That alone should speak volumes about Percat’s ability — following the footsteps of “The Enforcer” shouldn’t be an easy task, but Percat is one man who can handle that responsibility.
Race of the Year — Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000
While there was some great racing throughout the 2014 season, selecting the winner of this award was not difficult. Chaz Mostert’s back-to-front run on the Mountain was hailed as an instant classic in the canon of Bathurst 1000s, and it’s not hard to see why.
No other race this season featured a pothole delay (a la the 2010 Daytona 500), no other race featured 24 different lead changes amongst 14 different drivers, and certainly no other race featured as many dramatic twists and turns in the closing laps. From the tangle between Lowndes and Winterbottom to van Gisbergen’s heartbreaking starter motor failure to the great debate of “will-he-won’t-he” as Jamie Whincup tried to conserve fuel and hold off the hard-charging Chaz Mostert, we were all riveted — the overnight TV ratings for this year’s Great Race were the highest they had been in the past 20 years.
And oh, by the way, two of the three cars on the podium had been stuffed in the fence at Griffins Bend early in the race and brought out the Safety Car! This race had everything to keep fans excited and that is why it gets the Golden Kangaroo for the Race of the Year.
Drive of the Year – Chaz Mostert and Paul Morris, Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000
They started in dead last after their lead driver’s qualifying time was disallowed for passing under red flags. They hit the wall and brought out the Safety Car a third of the way through the race. Then they managed to pass the entire field to win the most prestigious race in Australian motorsport.
The drive that the #6 team put forth on the Mountain in 2014 will likely stack up as one of the all-time great performances in the history of the Great Race for the perseverance shown in the face of adversity — that makes the Drive of the Year award winner another easy one to decide.
Surprise of the Year: Tekno Autosport taking second in the drivers’ championship (via Shane van Gisbergen)
Remember that Tekno Autosport is not a massive operation, especially when compared to some of the big teams (RBRA, FPR, etc.) in the V8 Supercars Championship. It is a one-car driver’s team (principal Jonathon Webb was a long-time driver-owner in the championship before van Gisbergen was hired) — something very much in the vein of Kevin Buckley’s The Racer’s Group.
Yet here are some of the names that they beat out in the drivers’ championship standings: Craig Lowndes. Mark Winterbottom. Garth Tander. James Courtney. Most of the larger teams would be overjoyed to pull off such a feat, much less one of the likes of Tekno! It was a banner year for the team in 2014: five wins, 13 podiums, three poles, and a faulty starter motor away from a victory in the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 (it failed on van Gisbergen as he was exiting his pit stall with just over 10 laps to go).
In a year where so many of the major players turned in disappointing performances, Tekno Autosport did just the opposite and improved mightily on what was a solid 2013 season. The pace to compete with Whincup in 2015 should be there, based on these performances; Tekno just needs to have that pace more consistently across the season.
Most Improved Driver: Scott McLaughlin, Valvoline Racing GRM
There is little question that 2014 will go down as the year in which Scott McLaughlin established himself as a star in the V8 Supercars Championship.
He set the tone for his 2014 in Race 2 at the Clipsal 500, where he held off Jamie Whincup until the final lap, let Whincup get by him, and then snuck right back around the six-time champ at the final corner as Whincup got loose. It was an epic battle to watch on TV, but it paled in comparison to what would come next. Asked about the battle with Whincup, Scott said “I don’t know what happened there. I just plucked her in first, gave it some jandal and f*** yeah!”
The f-bomb that McLaughlin dropped was born out of sheer excitement; as a result, it brought a massive roar of applause from the Adelaide crowd. In that moment, McLaughlin endeared himself to V8 Supercars fans. That moment became so popular that Valvoline Racing GRM developed their own line of Jandals (better known as flip-flops in the States) with a “cleaned up” version of the quote on them! If that alone isn’t any indication of how massive that moment was for the team, jandal-themed t-shirts and bottle-openers were eventually added to the line as well.
From that moment on, he was one of the most popular drivers in the series in 2014. McLaughlin’s statline for 2014 reads like so: Four victories, 10 podiums, 27 top-10 finishes and fifth in the overall points standings. Those all came with four DNFs, which makes the fifth-place finish in the points standings even more impressive. Not a bad year for a team working with a brand new manufacturer to the world of V8 Supercars.
All in all, it was a memorable year for McLaughlin, who was honored for his efforts at the end of the season with the Barry Sheene Medal (for the fastest and fairest competitor in the series) — the second most prestigious prize handed out at the V8 Supercars Awards Gala behind the drivers’ championship. McLaughlin is already being tipped as a future champion of the V8 Supercars — of course, time will tell, but just going off of 2014, the likelihood of that prediction coming true someday is high.
Driver of the Year – Jamie Whincup, Red Bull Racing Australia
Fifteen wins. 22 podiums. 34 top-ten finishes (capped-off by a 24-race streak of top-10 finishes that spanned from Barbagallo Raceway- in May- to the end of the season). 10 poles. A record-breaking sixth driver’s title (his fourth in a row) and a fifth-consecutive constructor’s title for his team.
Such was 2014 for Jamie Whincup.
At this point, his numbers seem to grow less relevant in regards to his amazing performances against current competition and more relevant when speaking about Whincup’s status in the entire history of Australian motorsport. At this rate, Jamie Whincup is not just going to break almost every major record in the combined history of V8 Supercars and the Australian Touring Car Championship — he is going to SMASH them.
The case for Whincup as the greatest of all time in Australian motorsport can already be made just off of his number of V8 Supercars titles. He also took the mantle of most poles in the history of V8 Supercars in 2014. The next criterium on Jamie’s list: the all-time wins record, which at the rate he has been winning races might be his next season.
Whincup’s next victory will be his 90th and will see him tie Mark Skaife on the wins-list. Following that, the only man he has to chase is Craig Lowndes and his 97 victories. Given that Craig only won four races to Jamie’s 15 in 2014, the likelihood is high that that record will change hands sometime over the summer (probably at one of Hidden Valley, Townsville, Queensland, or Sydney Motorsports Park). For Jamie, the ultimate record might be reaching Peter Brock’s record of 9 wins in the Bathurst 1000 — Whincup only has four, though had fortune fallen his way in 2013 and 2014, he might already be sitting on six (he was in the running for the win on the Mountain on the final lap in both seasons).
Of all the records Jamie can possibly break, that might be the one he is furthest away from making his own at this point. If he can break that at some point in the future, we may very well be talking about an almost implausible scenario in which Whincup runs out of records to take, because he will have already broken all of the records that he possibly can!
Whincup has the potential to be the greatest of all time by some margin — whether or not that pans out as such will just be something that we have to wait and see.
For more information on the V8 Supercars Championship, visit http://www.v8supercars.com.au/.