Former Supercars champs gunning for title
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 series) - great year."
Whincup, 34, enters his second successive season without the No.1 plate and title of defending champion.
His tally of six driver crowns makes him more successful than legends such as Dick Johnson and Mark Skaife.
While it was Ford rival Mark Winterbottom who ended a reign of four straight championships in 2015, it was Red Bull teammate Shane van Gisbergen who held off Whincup in a pulsating 2016 season.
The pair was temporary on-track rivals in 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 on to 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 them 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," he 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."
While happy for his teammate, that's not to say Whincup won't still be gunning for title No.7.
"I raced hard last year ... I'm going to race hard again this year and keep the tempo up and try to be a bit more strategic," he said.
"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."
Ford star Winterbottom has described the pain of losing his Supercars crown as like a "dagger in you", but vowed to fight back against the domination of Red Bull and the wider Triple Eight Race Engineering squad, which also includes Craig Lowndes (of Team Vortex).
After claiming his maiden title in 2015, Winterbottom limped home to sixth in the championship.
Admitting it had been an "average" finish to his title defence, Winterbottom said he and his Prodrive Racing team were fiercely determined to get their hands back on the title.
"I worked so hard for so many years to get it (the title) and we just weren't good enough last year," he said.
"It's not ideal, but we're motivated to win it back ... it took so long to get it and didn't take long to lose it and hopefully it doesn't take long to get it back."
Fellow veteran Garth Tander, meanwhile, insists he won't be motivated by the past in his homecoming to the team where his Supercars career began.
The three-time Bathurst champion returns to Garry Rogers Motorsport - where he made his V8 debut in 1998 - after losing his long- held seat at Walkinshaw Racing to former DJR Team Penkse driver Scott Pye.
But the 2007 Supercars champion - who found out he would not be getting a new deal with the Holden Racing Team (now called the Mobil 1 HSV Racing team after losing its factory backing) just days after he won the Sandown 500 - did not feel like he had a point to prove this year.
"Dick Johnson is known for having some fantastic one-liners and one of his classics is 'the only thing you get from looking backwards is a sore neck','' Tander said. "I had a great time at HRT and Walkinshaw Racing - we had a lot of success together, championships, two Bathursts.
"But that's in the past. They're going in their direction now and I'm going in mine and I'm very comfortable with where I'm at now.''
Tander is confident he can again become a challenger with GRM, where he will be back racing a Holden Commodore after the end of the team's relationship, and subsequent legal wrangle, with Volvo.
"It's a nice story certainly," he said.
"But ... I wanted to go somewhere that was capable of still winning races, challenging for championships ... GRM is one of those teams."
V8 HONOUR ROLL
2007 Garth Tander (Holden)
2008 Jamie Whincup (Ford)
2009 Jamie Whincup (Ford)
2010 James Courtney (Ford)
2011 Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2012 Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2013 Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2014 Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2015 Mark Winterbottom (Ford)
2016 Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden)
REPORTING BY SCOTT WALSH, WARREN PARTLAND & REBECCA WILLIAMS