Team Betta Electrical's Jamie Whincup has taken his maiden V8 Supercar round win at one of the biggest races in the sport, the Clipsal 500 in Adelaide.
Whincup took the chequered flag in the second leg 250-kilometre leg, after finishing third in the opening leg on Saturday; victory in that race went to team-mate Craig Lowndes.
It was Whincup's first race win in any category since his Australian Formula Ford title in 2002.
The result in Adelaide has now stamped the 23-year-old as one of the young stars in V8 Supercars.
The only drama of the day for Whincup was a poor start, when he dropped from third on the grid to eighth. Team Betta Electrical elected to bring him in on lap #6 for his compulsory tyre stop. This allowed him to set his own pace out of the traffic.
The important part of the race came on lap #22 when a safety car allowed Whincup to make his fuel stop, while his rivals were making their first stops for tyres. This vaulted him into the leading pack of cars; which then became the lead when they all made their fuel stops.
The race was punctuated by a multi-car accident that included Lowndes, James Courtney (Jeld-Wen Motorsport), Brad Jones (Team BOC), Jose Fernandez (Fujitsu Racing) and Cameron McConville.
Whincup headed the restart from a determined Todd Kelly, before another safety car was called on the track for an accident involving Mark Skaife and Greg Murphy.
From the final re-start Whincup showed plenty of class to not only hold-off Todd Kelly, but also pull away to take victory by two seconds.
The win has Whincup in first place in the championship chase, five points ahead of Rick Kelly and 20 points ahead of Todd Kelly.
"What a thrill, a perfect way to start my career with Team Betta Electrical and Ford," said Whincup.
"The team gave me a great car and all the right calls from the pits. It's amazing to be part of such a professional outfit.
"I'm delighted for not just myself, but also for the younger group of drivers in this championship. I know that I'm not the only young driver that can really challenge the established stars.
"The only thing I'm not so happy about was my start. I'll take a good look at improving that part of my driving.
"The key to our result today was that we set our own plan with the early pit stop. The guys told me to put my head down and work towards the middle part of the race. The safety car fell perfectly for us, as we just came into the fuel window to make it to the end.
"The job was by no means then done. I had to fight all the way as I had Todd giving me plenty.
"To not only win, but also lead the championship has far exceeded my aim before this weekend. Now I need to make sure I can remain consistent for the next championship race in New Zealand."
Today's result was a major comeback for Whincup. After his Formula Ford title in 2002 he was given a full-time ride with Garry Rogers Motorsport in 2003. That relationship ended before the season was out and Whincup's V8 career appeared to be over.
In 2004 he raced for Perkins Motorsport at Sandown and Bathurst, with strong performances in both events. He was then signed to drive for Tasman Motorsport last year, with the highlight being second place at Bathurst. This result along with other strong performances through 2005 caught the attention of Team Betta Electrical and Ford with his signing at the end of last season.
"I have had to earn my place in this championship and I know that I can't rest on this result," said Whincup.
"Today was the first race I had led since Formula Ford in 2002. In many ways I had to remember how to not just lead again, but also protect that lead.
"I'm not going to say that I'm a championship contender. The lessons I've learnt over the past four years has taught me to never look so far ahead. I really concentrate on how I perform as apposed to the results sheet. I must say that this weekend I was happy with both!
"My life has changed so much since coming to Team Betta Electrical. First of all I actually left home! The major factor is that I have never worked so close with a team before. I have exactly the same equipment as Lowndes and that is a clear sign of my role in the team; I'm not the second fiddle.
"Working with Ford has also opened my eyes. From the moment I switched they have welcomed me and although this weekend was my first race for the Blue Oval, I consider myself a Ford man."
Ford Racing Manager Ray Price had plenty of praise for Whincup.
"Jamie has always been a talent, it's great for him to get his first V8 Supercar round in a Ford," said Price.
"Adelaide is a very important round for us, to win it three years in a row is a further bonus.
"Jamie is not a star of the future; he's a star of today. The thing I'm really impressed with is his attitude on and off the track. Plus the fact that he's willing to learn and further develop.
"The win for Jamie and Ford in Adelaide has certainly started the 2006 season off on the right note."
Ford finished with five cars in the top-10, with defending champion Russell Ingall (Caltex Racing) taking sixth, Steven Johnson (First Rock Racing) in eighth, Max Wilson (WPS Racing) in ninth and rounding out the 10 was Will Davison (V8 Telecom Racing).
The V8 Supercar Circus now travels across to Melbourne for the non-championship support races at the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
Many teams will have their work cut out as they repair damaged race cars in less than two days.
Clipsal 500 Overall Results and Championship positions
1. Jamie Whincup Team Betta Electrical Ford Falcon 310 points
2. Rick Kelly Toll HSV Dealer Team Holden Commodore -5 points
3. Todd Kelly Holden Racing Team Holden Commodore -20 points
4. Garth Tander Toll HSV Dealer Team Holden Commodore -40 points
5. Steven Richards Jack Daniel's Racing Holden Commodore -40 points
6. Russell Ingall Caltex Racing Ford Falcon -60 points
7. Paul Dumbrell Jack Daniel's Racing Holden Commodore -70 points
8. Steven Johnson First Rock Racing Ford Falcon -75 points
9. Max Wilson WPS Racing Ford Falcon -100 points
10. Will Davison V8 Telecom Racing Ford Falcon -115 points
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