The West

Whincup one of the greats
Jamie Whincup. Pic: Edge Photographics

He has gone past Peter Brock and Craig Lowndes.

Equalled Allan Moffat.

Now only the great Dick Johnson, Mark Skaife and Ian Geoghegan possess more Australian touring car championship titles.

Jamie Whincup's fourth V8 Supercars crown lifts the 29-year-old Queensland-based driver into the sport's most rarefied air.

History always appears more legitimate and real when sepia-tinged.

But Whincup can and should now be considered one of Australia's motorsport greats - of this or any era.

He is as dominant as any driver has ever been in touring car racing, winning four of the past five V8 championships.

On average he has won a race every three starts since 2006.

Unusually, he has won championships driving both Fords and Holdens.

Critics point out a huge part of his success has been the quality of his Team Vodafone, the sport's benchmark outfit.

Their cars are brilliant. Their strategies rarely fail. Their dominance has been long-term.

Whether the team makes the driver or vice-versa is a chicken-and-egg argument.

What cannot be argued is that Whincup has come a long way both mentally and in his craft since a late season meltdown in 2007 which cost him the title by two points to Holden rival Garth Tander.

Accidents caused by driver error in Bahrain and the Gold Coast could have brought him undone permanently.

Already Whincup's career had stalled once when he was sacked by Garry Rogers Motorsport following his debut 2003 season.

But after a year out of the sport, he produced solid results with the small Tasman Motorsport outfit.

That won him a move to Team Vodafone where it was assumed he would be Robin to Lowndes' Batman.

Instead it was Whincup who took wings, soaring above the prodigiously talented Lowndes in terms of results and now titles.

His 2007 catastrophe was followed by instant recovery.

Back-to-back titles came in 2008 and 2009.

James Courtney pipped him in 2010 before Whincup won again.

Now he has claimed back-to-back titles once more, and showed his mental strength again to race his way to the championship following a pit lane penalty mid-race at Winton.

Lesser drivers could have been floored by that mistake, but Whincup drove his way from back to front of the field and grabbed third place to ensure he will collect the title after the season-ending event in Sydney in a fortnight.

Whincup's contract with Team Vodafone has one more year to go. Then, he has a big decision to make.

He can become a career V8 driver, like Brock, Skaife or Lowndes.

Stretch his championship and Bathurst record - he is a four-time winner at Mt Panorama - to unassailable levels.

Or try his hand at something else while he still can. NASCAR, or perhaps driving in another international category.

At 30, as he will be next year, the turning circle required is easier to negotiate.

He admitted prior to his championship-sealing weekend at Winton he would consider his options once his current deal expired.

Should Whincup win the title again in 2013 and equal the record of five championship wins, the most enticing option of all may be the chance to set a benchmark for the ages.

The West Australian

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