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V8 Supercars vie for the lead at at the Yas Marina Circuit last night.
V8 Supercars vie for the lead at  at the Yas Marina Circuit last night.

Whincup all the way in Yas Marina triumph

Jamie Whincup - the reigning V8 Supercars champion - looks, once more, like being the man to beat in 2010.

ABU DHABI // A new season, a new race, a new car, but ultimately the same old story. Jamie Whincup - the reigning V8 Supercars champion - looks, once more, like being the man to beat in 2010 after he coasted to victory in the series' first-ever race at Yas Marina Circuit. Having won the Shootout qualifying session to snare pole - a lap he described as "one of the best I've ever had" - Whincup justified his team's close-season decision to swap its double title-winning Ford Falcon for a Holden Commodore by topping Abu Dhabi's maiden V8 podium with a dominant post-to-post triumph.

After spinning in the Shootout, Whincup's team-mate Craig Lowndes finished second to complete an emphatic one-two for Team Vodafone, while Orrcon Steel FPR's Mark 'Frosty' Winterbottom completed the 1-2-3 on the podium. Winterbottom, who started second on the grid, appeared to be catching the Team Vodafone duo in the race's final stages, but ultimately ran out of laps: a costly 10-second time penalty for misaligning his car at the start effectively nailed the coffin lid shut on the 28-year old's hopes of victory. "It's a special day," said Whincup after his 35th career win. "To get pole and a one-two finish in the year's first race on a brand new circuit and in a brand new car is an amazing feeling. It's a great reward for the team and we're in a bit of a shock - we didn't expect this.

"It's been a rollercoaster ride just getting the car to the track. We've pretty much re-invented the wheel to get it reasonable race-wise." Lowndes agreed. "It shows the professionalism of the team and shows how hard we've worked to not just build the cars, but get them on the track to race. We had tested but hadn't done too many miles, so we're ecstatic," he said. And with good reason, as Team Vodafone's main challengers, Toll Holden Racing's Will Davidson and Garth Tander, both endured nightmare Yas debuts.

Having gone third fastest in the Shootout, the 2007 champion Tander was disqualified from qualifying for a safety infringement. Starting the race from the back of the grid, Tander struggled in traffic and eventually finished 26th. That result, coupled with teammate Davison's retirement with a blown engine on lap 30, leaves them languishing well behind Whincup and Co after just one race. Not that Whincup, who is seeking a third consecutive championship, found it easy going. "I knew Lowndes was coming hard at the end, but I hung in and got there in the end. You don't have to win by a huge amount, you just have to cross the finish line first."

Ominously for the field in today's second race, Whincup does not intend on letting up. "When you have form you've got to make the most of it and I will push as hard as I can while the car is good," he smiled, trophy in hand, last night. Winterbottom, meanwhile, rued the time penalty which cost him a 13th career win. "I'm disappointed but the lap times were good and to soldier back to third is a good result," he said. "The car is good and I enjoyed the race - it's just shame we were 10 seconds down."

Dick Johnson Racing's James Courtney was fourth, Lee Holdsworth fifth, with the 20-year old Shane van Gisbergen, who started ninth, finishing an impressive sixth. Today's second and final race starts at 6pm, with the 20-minute qualifying beginning at 3.10pm. emegson@thenational.ae

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