TRY telling Jamie Whincup he must be extra hungry on the eve of Clipsal 500, entering 2017 without the title of defending Supercars champion.
“Let’s not get negative about it, 2016 was a great year,” Australian touring cars’ most decorated driver insists.
“Really enjoyed it.
“We won some races, got some great poles, did some really good things. Yeah, we didn’t quite get the grand prize — but thank god my teammate did and we kept it in house at Red Bull Racing.
“We’ve worked really hard, we worked together as a team and to be one-two (in the championship) — great year.”
Whincup, 34, enters his second successive season without the No. 1 plate and defending champion.
His tally of six driver crowns since his breakthrough in 2008 makes him more successful than legends including Dick Johnson and Mark Skaife.
While it was Ford rival Mark Winterbottom who ended a reign of four straight championships in 2015 it was his own Red Bull teammate, Shane van Gisbergen, who held off Whincup in a pulsating 2016 season.
The pair were temporary on-track rivals the Bathurst 12 Hour earlier this month, when Whincup passed van Gisbergen with a breathtaking move at the end of the high-speed Conrod Straight.
They traded paint as Whincup was forced wide onto the grass but he stuck the move in his Ferrari 488 GT3 and sealed the win for Maranello Motorsport.
Whincup said the pre-season exchange with his regular race day ally was no pointer for what to expect from the Red Bull aces in 2017.
“It was funny, we weren’t on the same team like usual so we weren’t looking after each other out there like we normally do,” Whincup said.
“We were enjoying the one race of the year where we weren’t teammates, so we decided to rub some panels on some bloody expensive cars.
“As far as 2017 goes, I’ve prepared well, so I’m going to race hard. I raced hard last year, but I’m going to race hard again this year and keep the tempo up and try to be a bit more strategic.
“We did some really good things last year, but probably just our strategy wasn’t as good as it could have been.
“We’ll keep the head down, be a bit smarter.”
Whincup has been a regular race winner on Adelaide’s streets at the season-opening Clipsal 500, but has not been event champion since 2011.
He is in a minority of Supercars drivers who preferred the abandoned format of twin 125km sprints on the Saturday race day, having won four of the six shorter races staged across the past three years.
Organisers have this year reverted to the traditional 250km races on both Saturday and Sunday, following appeals from drivers and teams to move away from the sprint trial.
But Whincup said despite a love for the action delivered by shorter races he backed any move to keep the Clipsal schedule fresh.
“I love the two 125s, especially being the first race of the year,” Whincup said.
“A 250km, race one, it’s like having summer off and then doing a 10km run on your first day back. It just absolutely smashes you.
“They were good races (the 125s), we did it for three years and every one was an absolute cracker. I was a fan of that.
“In saying that, I’m all for change. Let’s keep moving it around. If I had to make a call, I’d say change it up, and in this case that means going back to the 250s.”