x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Whincup wins three-in-row at Abu Dhabi

Early crash in GP2 showdown fails to prevent Bianchi from cruising to opening success.

ABU DHABI // Jamie Whincup, the Australian Team Vodafone driver, celebrated his 100th career start in style last night with a third consecutive victory at Yas Marina Circuit at the season-opening race of the V8 Supercars Championship.

A former season champion twice over, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Sunday, was more than 13 seconds quicker than his nearest rival, Irwin Racing's Alex Davison. Mark Winterbottom of Ford Performance Racing finished third.

"It has been a big week," said Whincup, who won both Abu Dhabi rounds of the championship last year and led yesterday for almost the entire race after passing Davidson early on.

"We come here each year hoping to get the season off to a good start and that was what we managed [last night]. I managed to pass Alex in the first lap and took it from there, really."

Davison, who finished 21st in last year's championship standings, was not getting carried away with his place on the second step of the podium, yet was not regretting missing out on the top spot, either. "The most vital factor is to maintain momentum throughout the year," he said.

"I thought I was far enough in front and braked late enough that [Whincup] would not be able to get up the inside, but on lap one of a 200km race, I figured there is no point driving along the white line, and once he was up, there was nothing I could do about it.

"In the past, our performances have been inconsistent. This race last year, we had a great start to the season," he said, adding that "the first few meetings are really about getting a base to build on for the rest of the year".

Whincup will look to make it four wins in succession in Abu Dhabi in today's second race.

Qualifying for that takes place at 3.15pm, with the race getting underway three hours later.

In the afternoon's earlier race, the GP2 Asia season got under way in explosive style when a massive shunt involving three cars occurred on the grid.

The collision resulted in a 30-minute delay as the safety car was deployed while the track was cleared of debris.

When the race finally restarted, Jules Bianchi, the French Lotus-ART driver, showed why Ferrari have selected him as their reserve driver for the upcoming Formula One season by retaining for 36 laps the lead he had earlier stolen from the pole-sitter Romain Grosjean.

Bianchi, 21, raised his thumb as he crossed the finish line to secure his first GP2 win.

"I have not won a race since I started GP2 in 2009, so it was really important for me to begin this season like that," Bianchi said.

"We have always been competitive, but we have improved a lot. [On Thursday] I knew I had the pace for pole, but Romain was better in qualifying, so I was disappointed, but now I am happy because we have our first win."

Grosjean, who raced in Formula One with Renault in 2009, blamed the Yas circuit for his second-placed finish.

"It's the track," replied the Swiss-born Frenchman when asked to explain his inability to overtake Bianchi.

"We saw it in the Formula One, which was possibly one of the most boring races to decide a championship. Ask Fernando (Alonso) if you have a doubt; this track is a nightmare when you are stuck behind a car."

In the day's only other action, Julian Griffin of NFS Racing secured pole position during qualifying in the UAE GT Championship, which will be the first race today.