ON THIS DAY: HOW WHINCUP ALMOST LOST FIRST WIN

Rick and Todd Kelly help Whincup celebrate victory. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

THERE’S an old saying that it’s better to be lucky than good. As it turns out, Jamie Whincup’s first V8 Supercars win was very much a case of being lucky and good.

On this day in 2006, a 23-year-old Whincup took a shock Adelaide 500 victory in his first event with emerging powerhouse Triple Eight Race Engineering.

It was a remarkable turnaround following his sacking from Garry Rogers Motorsport at the end of a tough rookie 2003 season, a year on the sidelines and then a rebuilding ’05 with Tasman Motorsport.

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Whincup’s ability to withstand extensive pressure from the Holden Racing Team’s Todd Kelly in that Adelaide race marked him as more than just a solid co-driver to Triple Eight’s star Craig Lowndes.

Of course, no one could have predicted just how much success Whincup would have. He’s now in his final full-time season with a staggering 122 race wins and seven championships under his belt.

He is by almost all statistical measures Supercars’ Greatest Of All Time, but that first win in Adelaide so nearly didn’t happen.

It’s a topic covered in our new book, ‘Sensational Adelaide: An Illustrated History of the Adelaide 500’, which is available to pre-order now in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.

Whincup started third thanks to his first career single-driver race podium on the Saturday but dropped to seventh with a poor start, before gaining track position through the early pit stop cycle.

This was in the days when there were two compulsory pit stops in Adelaide, one for tyres and one for fuel, and they had to be done separately.

An early first stop though meant Whincup was able to complete his second under a lap 22 Safety Car while many others were taking their first – and then doing their second on the very next lap!

That and a subsequent series of fast, mistake-free laps that belied his lack of experience with the car and category in general put the youngster in the box seat for victory.

Whincup holding off Todd and Rick Kelly late in the Sunday race. Pic: an1images/com / Justin Deeley

But a clash with Dean Canto – who was technically ahead of Whincup at the time but still had a second stop to make – on lap 46 of 78 nearly brought it all undone.

“I passed Dean Canto at Turn 4, we clipped and bent the [left-rear] rim,” Whincup told Supercars.com years later.  

“The rim was so badly damaged the tyre should’ve gone down. We should’ve not finished that race, but somehow the tyre stayed up.

“Roland [Dane] and Derek Warwick and the owners of Triple Eight back then presented me with the rim [the following week], which is one of my prized possessions.”

Amid the celebrations in the aftermath of the race, Whincup was apologetic towards Canto, who had returned to the main game with Garry Rogers Motorsport after winning the 2005 Development Series.

Canto told MNews of the incident at the time: “I could have moved over a little bit more when I saw Jamie coming but I didn’t want to pull in too far behind him because there was another car behind him.

“I thought I gave him plenty of room. He either did it on purpose or it just stepped out on him. It hit the front wheel that hard that it ripped the steering wheel out of my hand and put me into the wall.”

Craig Lowndes was among those caught in the Sunday carnage. Pic: an1images.com / Justin Deeley

The clash between Whincup and Canto is largely forgotten, overshadowed by several far bigger hits during the most carnage-strewn Adelaide 500 in history.

That included a series of shunts at Turn 8 for the likes of Holden stars Mark Skaife (who crashed at the sweeper on both days) and Greg Murphy and Stone Brothers Racing debutant James Courtney.

Triple Eight wasn’t immune to the carnage either as Saturday winner Lowndes was swept up in a multi-car incident that also claimed Courtney’s car late in the Sunday race.