Motor Sports

Australian motorsport great Jamie Whincup on how much he hates to lose. By Richard Cooke.

Speed demon: Jamie Whincup, 31, V8 Supercars driver

Jamie Whincup is already considered one of the greats of Australian motorsport, in one of its most competitive eras. He has won the V8 Supercars Championship five times, and the Bathurst 1000 four times. Driving for Red Bull Racing alongside teammate Craig Lowndes, he will compete in the Perth 400 this weekend.

Richard Cooke Rumour has it you’re the most competitive sportsperson in Australia. People say you can’t play tiddlywinks with Jamie Whincup without him wanting to win every time.

Jamie Whincup Where did you get those rumours from?

RC People talk.

JW Yeah, fair enough. That’s a true statement. 

RC Do you love winning or hate losing?

JW Although that sounds negative, I hate losing. I don’t mind getting beaten, but I absolutely hate losing.

RC The difference being a mistake? 

JW That’s the difference. I’ve put in my best performance and we’ve had potential to win but we didn’t maximise. Getting beaten is fine. If someone wants to step up and put in an awesome performance on the day and beat us, I couldn’t be happier for them.

RC But you make very few mistakes. How?

JW All of that’s planning and preparation – just dedicating the time to perfect your craft and be the best athlete you can be. No different to business really. It’s all mental – because we’ve got limited time in the car. For me to perfect my craft, there’s minimal time inside the actual vehicle. It’s a bit of a myth about the sport: everyone thinks you’re in the car all day, every day, or at least once a week or twice a week doing laps. But it’s four days a year.

RC You only practise four days a year?

JW Yeah. We spend a lot of time looking at video and squiggly lines of data on the computer. Every time the car is on track it downloads a heap of data – everything that’s going on – and we study those lines to work out what made the car go fast and what made the car go slow.

RC So being a race-car driver is more like being an accountant than people might realise.

JW It is. Being a race-car driver, you sign up to drive a car and that’s 15 per cent of your job. The other 85 per cent is travelling the country and supporting the corporate partners that support you and make the sport possible. 

RC All that waiting – it must be a huge surge of adrenalin when you finally get to race. How do you control it?

JW The key is I absolutely love the sport. I’ll be involved in it for the rest of my life. I just love driving my car. There’s no better feeling than putting new tyres on a brand-new car and getting the most out of it, completing a lap the best you possibly can, as close to perfect as possible. I’ve never experienced any greater rush. To form a group, and for that group of people to work together and to beat everyone over a race weekend, that’s an amazing feeling as well. Those things are money-can’t-buy experiences that you never get used to. And once you get a taste of it you definitely want more.

RC Motorsport has an unusual dynamic, because you compete against, as well as co-operate with, your teammate.

JW Yes, it is a very unusual dynamic. What’s weirder is … the effort we put in with our engineers to make the car go faster – those ideas then get sold to our opposition to race against us. It would be like the Hawthorn footy club selling their training techniques to the other footy clubs. Don’t try to work that out in your head because you won’t – it took me a few years. It’s unbelievably unique to motorsports, but it means the cars are very similar. It’s now about the human element, and a strong emphasis on the driver to drive the car quicker and longer than anyone else. It’s become more and more cutthroat and more and more of a challenge. 

RC That human element … when you went to race with Craig Lowndes, he’d had seven teammates in seven years. You were going into the lion’s den.

JW Yeah, 100 per cent, and I got warned by many people: “Don’t go there, Lowndes will make you look ordinary and you’ll be on the scrap heap like you were a couple of years ago.” So, I probably got a little bit of arrogance. I put my head down, worked hard and I like to think I earned my stripes the hard way.

RC Peter Brock taught him, and he taught you. And you two compete hard.

JW Yeah. We always have a good, honest battle. I wish I could say we’ve never ever had an incident. We went seven-and-a-half years without ever having an incident, but unfortunately we had a bit of contact at Tasmania this year. That was a shame but that was a bit of miscommunication. We sorted that out straight away – we’ve been good mates, we certainly help each other out and, if I can’t win a race, the first person I want to win the race is Lowndesy. That’s not a common thing within teammates.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 17, 2014 as "Speed demon".

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Richard Cooke
is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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