Jamie Whincup admitted he and his team have been “confused” by their lack of speed this season.
Now two completed rounds behind championship leader Scott McLaughlin on the points table, Whincup is stuck in a winless drought unseen in his days with Triple Eight.
Shell V-Power Racing Fords share 15 of the season’s 18 race wins – 13 for McLaughlin, two for Fabian Coulthard – and have taken 12 poles.
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Whincup, meanwhile, is winless after 18 races in 2019. In fact, he hasn’t tasted victory since last season’s Sandown 500, marking a 24-race winless streak – his worst such streak since joining Triple Eight in 2006.
Teammate Shane van Gisbergen has won races at Tasmania and last time out in soggy Townsville. That day, in chaotic conditions, it was the series’ most successful driver who pushed hardest, yet came up with a big fat zero and a bent Commodore.
In slippery conditions, Whincup had worked his way from 12th to fifth by Lap 15 before making a rare error that left his team “surprised”.
Year on year, there are few silver linings for Whincup. Post-Townsville 12 months ago, he was 451 points off the pace, albeit having reaped nine podiums including three wins. In 2019, he’s 640 points behind with just six podiums to his name.
One of those podiums came on the Saturday at Townsville, proving Whincup still has pace, but the ability to unlock it on a consistent basis is where it’s hurting most.
In 2019, Whincup’s average qualifying position is 7.9. To this point last year, it was 4.3. Eight times this season, he has failed to qualify in the top 10.
Thursday’s test at Queensland Raceway – with Whincup also spending time at the wheel of van Gisbergen’s car – was crucial for the team to try and unlock the secrets as to why things aren’t going to plan.
“There’s a few things, four or five things have really confused us over the last four or five months,” Whincup said.
“We didn’t have as much clarity as we would have liked, but we got a lot more clarity with a few things today.
“With the limited test days the category has got, every one is vital.
“We’ve been hanging for this day for a long time to really validate some things we’ve been trying at race meetings and have a lot better understanding for a lot of set-up things in the car.”
Craig Lowndes, who will link up with Whincup in the factory Holden team for the enduros, suggested prior to Townsville that the team has shifted its focus to the year’s longest races.
Whincup and Lowndes won three Bathurst 1000s on the trot over a decade ago, and come enduro time, few would bet against the pair to bring the magic back in 2019.
Admitting teams are “massively deprived” of testing, Thursday’s long day at Queensland Raceway was more a chance for the team to find Whincup the best possible package. That meant Lowndes had few laps behind the wheel, but Whincup stressed his veteran co-driver-turned-broadcaster will click regardless.
“There was some serious learning going on,” Whincup said.
“We would have loved to have given Lowndesy more laps, but our program was massive.
“We got through a lot, so it’s a compromise of doing a lot of learning with the car or giving Craig more laps.
“The best thing for Lowndesy in the enduros is to give him the best car.”