“HEY, what’s Bathurst without a fuel race?” Jamie Whincup joked in the post-Bathurst 12 Hour press conference.
He could afford to. This time, Mount Panorama’s fuel gods had smiled down on him.
The scenario wasn’t exactly unfamiliar.
Whincup was in second place aboard the No. 75 Mercedes he was sharing with expat Aussie businessman Kenny Habul and open-wheel stars Tristan Vautier and Raffaele Marciello. In his ear was race engineer Geoff Slater.
Barely two seconds ahead was the race leader, with less than half an hour left in the race.
And in the fuel tank? Not quite enough juice to make it to the chequered flag.
He, Slater and the team of engineers in the garage were in two minds on what to do — conserve and pray, or go flat out and pit — when the multi-car crash on top of the Mountain took the decision out of their hands, the red flags ending the race early and confirming the squad’s second placing.
“We were up and down deciding which way to go,” Whincup said. “We would’ve made it with a couple of safety car laps.
“We were holding out, if a safety car came we would’ve been fine, which it did. If the safety car didn’t come we would’ve had to pit, and we would’ve dropped a few spots and potentially may not have been on the podium.
“But everyone had that call to make. We made the call, some days it works, some days it doesn’t.
“The first thought was ‘we need the Safety Car’ and then I saw the carnage and thought ‘hopefully everyone’s OK’.
“In my head, I’m thinking the driver’s door’s caved in, that’s disastrous.
“And then they said John’s OK and I’m like ‘how does that work?’ Here’s me thinking we’re right-hand drive.
“Thank god it was left-hand drive, it could’ve been a different story.”
DAZED BUT NOT CONFUSED
Whincup was aboard the Mercedes for the final two stints to the flag, and admitted the experience left him a little bumped and bruised.
And, thanks to the fumes, a little dazed.
“The fumes are a massive factor for this weekend,” he said.
“That ethanol fuel we run (in Supercars) is actually really clean and you never have any fume issues. But I was actually struggling a little bit with the fumes, for the first time in a long time.
“You’re a little bit dazed from the fumes, the cars are hot, big engines, the exhaust pipe literally runs down beside you in that thing. You’re hot, so a combination of all of those things, you’re coming across slow cars, it’s so easy to have a stack.
“I was making mistakes I wouldn’t normally and I was a little bit affected by the fumes. Not massive, if I was too much I would’ve stopped.
“I think I got affected by the fumes, but that’s fairly common, if you ask a lot of guys, the fumes are a factor.”
Along with the numerous accidents between faster and slower cars during the race, there were countless near misses.
Whincup had his share.
“I had two majors, which is probably low. I would’ve had five or six last year,” he said.
“You make a 50-50 call, you hope guys see you, half the time the mirrors are turned in.
“My mirrors had tinting all over them for the glare at the start of the race, so they were 50-50 whether you could see out of them.
“But getting through the traffic is a huge part of this race. That’s what it’s all about.
“It’s not going to change and it shouldn’t change, because at the end of the day you need gentleman drivers. You need guys to pay for the cars. If we decide to get rid of all those guys, then there’s no cars on the grid.
“The category needs gentleman drivers, we need a mix, we need different-spec cars.
“The Pros need to understand that, that there’s less-professional people out there and then the amateurs need to do the best job they can on letting the quick guys through and it’s a big combination for both parties to make it work.”
Although his 100 per cent win record at the 12 Hour is now history, Whincup joked that he still held a 100 per cent podium streak.
“We couldn’t be happier, to drink some champagne at the end of a long weekend with three guys I hadn’t met four days ago and Scotty Taylor, I’ve never driven with him, I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
And will he be back next year? There’s no doubt in his mind.
“I’d love to come back, absolutely,” he said.
“I said to the Ferrari guys I’d love to come back, but they couldn’t produce a car.
“I’m all about loyalty, I’ve been at Triple Eight for 150 years now! If Kenny wants to do it again, for sure I’ll do it again.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that David Cauchi was Jamie Whincup’s race engineer for the Bathurst 12 Hour. Geoff Slater was in fact the race engineer on the No.75 SunEnergy1 Mercedes. We apologise for any offense caused.