He’s found some speed and enjoying his Holden, but Jamie Whincup isn’t predicting the start of a title fightback at this weekend’s Supercars SuperSprint in Darwin.
The six-time champion was quickest across two practice sessions on Friday, with Nissan’s Rick Kelly hot on his tail around a sizzling Hidden Valley Raceway – just 0.0077secs, or 62cm, adrift.
It is a promising sign for Whincup, who hasn’t won a race since the season-opening sprint at the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide and hasn’t had a pole position in 2016.
But a test day last week at Queensland Raceway appears to have done wonders, with the Red Bull Racing pilot much happier behind the wheel.
“The car’s much nicer than it’s been for a long time, to be honest,” he said.
“I think we found something (during testing) which is nice and things are making sense.
“We had a good day and just moved forward like the old days … but it’s still not perfect and we’ve still got a little bit to go.”
Whincup is third on the overall standings, 36 points behind Ford’s reigning champion Mark Winterbottom and only nine points back from Volvo’s Scott McLaughlin in second.
But asked whether this weekend would mark the start of a fightback, 33-year-old said he wouldn’t go that far.
“We’ve had a solid start to the year but we’ve been hanging in there more than leading the pack,” he said.
“Test day was pretty important for us to get back on track and today showed some promising signs that we’re back on track, but there’s still a long way to go.
“I haven’t won a race in a while; I haven’t won a pole for a while – I miss it.”
Teammate Shane van Gisbergen was third fastest in practice, ahead of McLaughlin and DJR Team Penske’s Scott Pye.
Winterbottom – driving a new car this weekend – was in 10th, while rival Craig Lowndes was a lowly 22nd.
Just 0.6678secs separated the top 23 cars, with only three being more than a second off the pace.
Among them was Garth Tander who, along with fellow Holden Racing Team driver James Courtney, have new engineers.
HRT made the radical decision to bring in Robb Starr and Alex Somerset to run the No.22 and No.2 entries a third of the way through the season in a bid to instil more confidence in their drivers.
Neither has been on the podium since round one in Adelaide.
Drivers will get a final practice session on Saturday morning before qualifying at 11:40am (CST) and a 42-lap race at 4:15pm.