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Can Whincup make it two championships in a row? Yas he can

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday February 19, 2010

Daniel Lewis is in Abu Dhabi as a guest of V8 Supercars Australia.

ABU DHABI: For the second year in a row, Jamie Whincup is starting the V8 Supercars season as the defending champion. But this year two things are very different.First, he is driving a Holden Commodore instead of a Ford Falcon as his TeamVodafone outfit has switched from the blue oval to the roaring lion.Second, his defence will begin at the amazing Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, on Friday (early Saturday, Sydney time), for the first time."The car is a question mark," Whincup said. "The quality of it? Hey, it's a Triple Eight-prepared car. It's quality engineering. How quick we'll be? I don't know."I'm not going to say we're going to set the world on fire. We'll let the results do the talking and hopefully they're as good as what we expect."The track is far wider than anything else the V8s compete on in Australia, so there should be exciting racing, according to Whincup. "We can go three wide down the straight. It will be cracker racing. Heaps of passing opportunities."One thing that does have drivers a bit spooked is a unique feature of the circuit: a long, narrow, winding tunnel that takes cars back onto the track from pit lane."It's pretty crazy," Whincup said. "We come in here [to pit lane] and we've got no tyre warmers. We put on four cold tyres and we go straight down into the tunnel - nice tight hairpin, could be a bit of moisture down there, a bit dark - on four cold tyres [which have far less grip than warm tyres]! It's going to be crazy. I think someone's going to crash. I hope it's not me."Another exciting element of the track is the "corkscrew" - an off-camber left-right-left combination that drops 15 metres over 100m. "The corkscrew for us has made the track very tight and technical the whole way around, so 200km is going to be a long way," Whincup said.Jim Beam Racing driver James Courtney said the Yas Marina Circuit was "probably the best facility in the world for racing ... there's not really anything it hasn't got".One of the sport's rising stars, Fabian Coulthard, said it was a "shame" tyre bundles had been placed on corners for the V8s. "The formula one managed to [race] without the tyre bundles there, so there's no reason why we can't," he said.One man missing from the starting grid here is veteran Greg Murphy, who had to honour a commitment to appear at a Top Gear Live event in his native New Zealand.Perhaps the most poignant moment of the day will come in the pit garage of the new Gulf Western-backed Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport. Watching Daniel Gaunt make his full-time V8 Supercars racing debut will be team manager Lucas Dumbrell.Dumbrell, at 20, is not only the youngest team owner in pit lane, he is also the sport's first quadriplegic team boss. He sustained his injuries in a horrific accident while competing in a Formula Ford event at Sydney's Oran Park in 2008.Dumbrell doesn't expect his team to win any races this year, but Gaunt's Commodore boasts the chassis of the car that Garth Tander used to win the championship in 2007.

© 2010 Sydney Morning Herald

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