A fateful day at the Auckland 500 has ended Jamie Whincup’s four-year reign at the top of V8 Supercars racing and helped Mark Winterbottom towards a maiden championship.
Whincup and David Reynolds took the race wins, Craig Lowndes crashed out and Winterbottom coasted through the drama at the Pukekohe circuit on Saturday.
Lowndes, who was leading the second race, suffered a spectacular blown tyre on the home straight to the amazement of a packed grandstand.
The 41-year-old veteran walked away from the crash, which sent pieces of his car into the air and his Commodore flying into the dirt.
But it was a bitter blow for the former champ, who was reeling in series leader Winterbottom while on track for a first win in New Zealand.
Having already clawed back points in the first race, Lowndes’ gap to Winterbottom was effectively 226 points until his crash.
As Reynolds claimed the win, Lowndes is 306 points behind car No.5, with Reynolds also overtaking him in the championship standings.
By contrast, Winterbottom’s strategy of keeping his car clean – he finished seventh and fourth in Saturday’s two 60km races – sets the career Ford man up for a dream title win after a decade in the sport.
Lowndes said he was no guarantee to race on Sunday given the impact.
“I was trying my best to keep it off the wall, unfortunately the concrete walls around here catch you and it caught me,” he said.
“Its disappointing but let’s hope we can get the car out and ready for tomorrow.”
Reynolds, then chasing Lowndes for the race lead, said it took him time to digest what he’d seen.
“It was like a missile hit his car and exploded, it was huge. I was a little bit scared when it happened,” he said.
“But as soon as he knew he was alright, we were good to go and I was in first.”
Reynolds’ win wasn’t sealed with Lowndes’ exit, as he held off Whincup after the clean-up to claim his second win of the season.
While Whincup was the best performed driver of the day, he was left with the sober realisation his time at the top was done – with a 771-point gap to Winterbottom and just 750 to fight for.
“It’s been my best day in New Zealand to be honest,” he said.
“Maybe somewhere in the future my day won’t be as good when I realise I have to hand the No.1 to somebody else but I’ve had a fantastic four years representing it.”
AUCKLAND 500 RESULTS – RACE 28
1. Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)
3. David Reynolds (Ford)
4. Craig Lowndes (Holden)
5. Scott Pye (Ford)
AUCKLAND 500 RESULTS – RACE 29
1. David Reynolds (Ford)
2. James Whincup (Holden)
3. Scott McLaughlin (Volvo)
4. Mark Winterbottom (Ford)
5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)
V8 SUPERCARS CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS – AFTER 29 RACES
1. Mark Winterbottom (Ford) – 2707
2. David Reynolds (Ford) – 2420
3. Craig Lowndes (Holden) – 2401
4. Garth Tander (Holden) – 2219
5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden) – 2185