THE spotlight will be on Broc Feeney throughout the 2022 Repco Supercars Championship when he steps into the seat vacated by Jamie Whincup at Triple Eight Race Engineering.
Feeney’s recruitment will mark just the third major change to the team’s full-time driver lineup since Whincup’s arrival in 2006.
The ensuing 16 seasons saw Whincup evolve from a raw, unproven talent to a driver that has rewritten virtually every metric of success in ATCC/Supercars Championship history.
BURNING QUESTIONS: How Feeney fares, will Whincup co-drive?
A key similarity between Whincup in 2006 and Feeney in 2022 is that both drivers are stepping into race-winning machinery with a star driver as teammate, with all the external pressure and comparisons that situation draws.
In contrast, Feeney will be 19 years old and have a Super3 title, two Super2 campaigns (and maybe a title) plus two Bathurst 1000s to his name when he lines up for Triple Eight at the start of 2022, whereas a then 23-year-old Whincup had two full ‘main game’ seasons plus two enduro campaigns under his belt when the 2006 season dawned.
Whincup’s maiden season with Triple Eight is best remembered for his win on debut in Adelaide and his Bathurst 1000 triumph alongside Craig Lowndes.
However, as Feeney takes over the most prized vacancy on the Supercars grid, it’s worth a reminder that 2006 was not entirely smooth sailing for the future seven-time series champion.
But there were flashes of what was to come.
Round 1 – Clipsal 500 Adelaide
Races: 3rd, 1st
The definition of a dream start. Whincup’s first round start with Triple Eight delivered the team its first Clipsal 500 overall victory.
He outqualified Lowndes in the Top 10 Shootout then put in a smart drive to third behind his winning teammate on Saturday, but that hard work was partially undone by a poor start on Sunday that dumped him to eighth on the opening lap.
An early pit stop followed by a string of searing laps leapfrogged him back into contention, and the decision to make his second pit stop under a lap-22 Safety Car while the bulk of the field were making their first stops meant the win was his – so long as he could make his tyres last for 72 laps.
Luck was on his side; a clash with Dean Canto bent the #88 Falcon’s left-rear wheel rim, but the tyre stayed inflated as Whincup held off the brothers Kelly to the chequered flag.
The weekend is captured in our book Sensational Adelaide: An Illustrated History of the Adelaide 500, available to buy now in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.
Non-points – Panasonic V8 Supercars, Albert Park
Races: 20th, 9th, 9th
His first front-row qualifying effort in a V8 Supercar went unrewarded in Race 1.
First, he lost ground due to a dive from Jason Richards at the first corner; he recovered to fourth but a locked brake while sitting behind his former Tasman teammate sent him through the gravel on the penultimate lap at Turn 9.
He recovered to ninth in the 100-km second race and retained that spot in the finale.
Round 2 – PlaceMakers V8 International, Pukekohe
Races: 15th, DNF, 10th
Pukekohe was a bruising reality check of life in the main game.
A potential top 10 result in Race 1 evaporated with an off at the hairpin that dumped him to last place, but he still recovered to 15th by the finish.
Race 2 was the year’s first reverse grid race, and Whincup was the victim of Lap 1 carnage on the exit of the hairpin that ultimately put him out of the race.
He recovered to 10th place in the final race, but the rough weekend meant his points lead was brief.
Round 3 – Perth V8 400, Barbagallo
Racing: 21st, 4th, 9th
A lowly 21st on the grid after battling understeer in qualifying was compounded by a Lap 1 excursion in Race 1 that dropped him to the tail of the field.
Whincup fell to the rear again when he stalled during his pit stop, but recovered to 21st by the finish to net an 11th-place start for the reverse grid Race 2, which he converted to fourth place.
A ninth from 16th on the grid in the finale delivered a top-10 round finish.
Round 4 – Winton Motor Raceway
Races: 25th, 2nd, 9th
Another disastrous opening race saw Whincup cop a mechanical black flag for damage at the rear of the #88 Falcon that forced him to pit one lap prior to the compulsory pit stop window opening…
The upside to the 25th-place finish was a second-row start for the reverse grid Race 2, which Whincup converted to second place.
Another ninth place finish from 16th on the grid allowed Whincup to hold steady in eighth place in points.
Round 5 – SKYCITY Triple Crown, Hidden Valley
Races: 9th, 5th, 26th
Whincup finally broke his Race 1 hoodoo to claim ninth on the run to the line, pipping Russell Ingall by just 0.0187 of a second.
He carved through from 23rd to 5th in the reverse grid Race 2, but a locked brake soon after his pit stop in Race 3 led to a puncture that dropped him to 26th at the finish.
Round 6 – BigPond 400, Queensland Raceway
Races: 8th, 27th, 8th
Whincup scored another top-10 finish in Race 1 but was a victim of Turn 1 mayhem at the start of the reverse grid Race 2, with the #88 one of several cars sent through the Turn 1 gravel trap.
The gravel ingested by the brake ducts eventually overheated a brake rotor, causing it to disintegrate on pit straight – the pieces narrowly missed Kees Weel, who was standing on the pit wall.
The crew completed repairs in time for Whincup to be classified a finisher in 27th, while an eighth-place finish in the finale gave Whincup his third top-10 round finish of the season to move up to seventh place in points.
Round 7 – Oran Park Raceway
Racing: 5th, 6th, DNF
An opportunity for a second round victory faded in a plume of smoke at Oran Park.
Whincup topped Friday practice at the Sydney venue and claimed fifth in the opening race with a last-lap pass on Jason Richards.
A sixth-place finish from 24th on the grid put Whincup third on the grid for the finale, where a fast start rocketed him into the lead.
He held the point for the first nine laps before a blown engine left him to watch the remainder of the race trackside.
While he had every right to be frustrated, Whincup celebrated the positives instead of lamenting what might have been.
“There is no use crying over a lost opportunity, we had a great weekend up until the engine let go,” Whincup said.
“The car was the best it’s been all weekend and I had six brand new tyres so we were all set up for the final race.
“While it is disappointing it is also encouraging to know I can confidently mix with the top ten.”
Round 8 – Betta Electrical Sandown 500
The endurance races were where Whincup had claimed his first V8 Supercars podiums 12 months prior with Tasman, and he was unfortunate not to claim a first-up enduro win with Triple Eight.
Lowndes qualified the car second on the grid and Whincup led through the early laps before settling into a comfortable second place throughout his stint.
However, the team elected not to pit under the first Safety Car period and instead made their first stop under green a few laps later which, coupled with a slow brake pad change, left the #888 Falcon a lap down.
Lowndes charged back to the podium across his double stint to the finish, but it was another lost opportunity for a victory.
Round 9 – Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000
Whincup’s second career V8 Supercars victory came in the biggest race of them all.
While Lowndes’ role in the triumph is rightly celebrated, it’s often forgotten that Whincup made the crucial pass on Todd Kelly on a Lap 110 restart that gave the #888 Falcon track position that Lowndes held to the finish.
As at Sandown, a decision to stay on track during a Safety Car period while most of their key rivals made their first stops dropped the #888 Falcon right down the field.
Both Lowndes and Whincup played key roles in the car’s charge back up the leaderboard, keeping out of trouble and making smart passes that didn’t put the car at risk.
The win was the team’s first triumph in the race, and is celebrated as part of the limited edition collector’s print 8 for Triple Eight marking the squad’s victories in the ‘Great Race’, available now in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop.
Round 10 – Gillette V8 Supercar Challenge, Surfers Paradise
Races: DNF, 22nd, 8th
Yet another Race 1 mishap derailed an entire weekend for Whincup.
This time it was a mechanical issue: Whincup held fifth behind Lowndes in the early laps until the car jumped out of gear under brakes, putting Whincup into the barriers and out of the race.
He avoided trouble for the rest of the weekend to work his way back up to eighth in the final race.
Round 11 – Ferodo Tasmania Challenge, Symmons Plains
Races: DNF, DNS, DNS
The low point of Whincup’s debut season with Triple Eight.
He took over the Bathurst-winning chassis while Lowndes debuted a new car, but Whincup’s weekend ended on the opening lap of the first race.
A tangle with good mate Paul Dumbrell on the run to the hairpin fired Whincup across the road, directly into the path of Greg Murphy and teammate Lowndes.
The crash left the Bathurst-winning chassis badly damaged and Whincup out for the remainder of the event, while Lowndes finished the race a lowly 27th and lost the points lead to title rival Rick Kelly.
Round 12 – Desert 400, Bahrain
Races: 10th, 6th, DNF
Whincup outqualified Lowndes in the championship’s inaugural visit to the Middle East and gained a spot with a strong start to Race 1, but sank to 22nd after a slow pit stop with wheel nut dramas.
He recovered to 10th by the finish, claimed sixth place in Race 2 and was on track to take fourth in the finale, but engine failure cost him another strong finish.
Round 13 – Caterpillar Grand Finale, Phillip Island
Races: 26th, 9th, 7th
Whincup rounded out his first year with Triple Eight with a weekend that was – unfortunately – in keeping with how much of his season had been.
He made a flying start to Race 1 from 12th on the grid to be battling Jason Richards for sixth into Doohan Corner, but Whincup dropped a wheel off the road on the exit and made contact with his former teammate, sending the pair off at Southern Loop.
He copped a pit lane penalty for his role in the incident, relegating him to 26th place at the finish.
More crucially, it meant he could no longer play an active role as a spoiler in teammate Lowndes’ bid for the championship.
Whincup recovered to ninth in Race 2, but a poor start dropped him to 16th at the end of the opening lap of Race 3.
Ironically, that likely saved him from being involved in the championship-changing carnage that unfolded at Honda Hairpin on Lap 2 as Lowndes and title rival Rick Kelly made contact under brakes.
Will Davison – who started one spot ahead of Whincup – slammed into the side of the spun Lowndes while Whincup, making up a bundle of spots amid the chaos, made wheel-to-wheel contact with his recovering teammate on the run to Siberia.
Lowndes limped to 27th while Kelly, penalised for his role in the incident, sealed the title with 18th place.
Whincup rounded out his 2006 season right on Cameron McConville’s heels in 7th place.
It was the last time for nine years – nine years! – that a Supercars Championship decider didn’t feature Whincup as either a title contender or the champion…