Can a rival suprise Whincup?

JAMIE Whincup is a clear favourite to clinch the championship title in Sydney this week, but V8 Supercars, like most sports, can always surprise.

Whincup goes into the 14th and final round in a strong position with a 188-point lead over Team Vodafone team-mate Craig Lowndes. They are the only two drivers who can claim the title.

Even if Lowndes wins the two 250km races in Sydney, and scores the maximum 300 points, Whincup need only finish fourth in one of them or 16th in both to finish on top.

However, when you recall the drama that unfolded in the championship decider on the Olympic Park street circuit 12 months ago then Lowndes can't be completely discounted.

Whincup, Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom, and I battled for the 2010 title in Sydney, and we all crashed in the first race at the same place at the same time in pouring rain during the closing laps.

After some hasty repairs to my car, I was able to complete two laps and was classified 15th, seven laps behind the race winner.

My result was worth 60 precious championship points, while Whincup and Winterbottom scored no points.

No one could have predicted the top three drivers crashing together, or that my 15th place would be crucial in clinching the title ahead of Whincup the next day.

Whincup has won 10 races this year, one of them in the previous round at Sandown in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, compared to Lowndes' four victories.

Obviously the 3.4km Sydney track has special memories for me, not just from claiming the title there on our previous visit, but also from winning one of the two races in the inaugural event in 2009.

I'm confident my Toll Holden Racing Team Commodore will be competitive in Sydney after finishing second in the first race at Sandown.

While Whincup and Lowndes are having a personal battle for the title, the rest of us will be going flat out to finish the year on a high with race wins.

The track at Homebush is a typical street circuit, with bumps, camber changes, man-hole covers, white lines, and drains, and typically the cars slide around a lot.

Mistakes are usually costly because there are plenty of concrete walls that can destroy cars if you hit them from a driver error, or after contact with another vehicle.

Heat gets trapped between the concrete walls, and in-car temperatures can reach 60-degrees in hot weather, which makes these races a test of concentration and fitness.

The event program comprises four practice sessions on Friday, and separate qualifying sessions and 250km races on both Saturday and Sunday.

Cars will be fitted with Dunlop's hard-compound 'control' tyres for qualifying and the races.

An interesting aspect of the Sydney round is the long-awaited 'Car of the Future' Holden and Ford prototypes will be unveiled to the public.

These are the cars that we will from race from the start of the 2013 championship, and will feature 18-inch wheels, compared to 17-inch units on our existing race cars,

The COTF vehicles will have plenty of common components aimed to reduce costs and make maintenance and repairs easier for teams, plus attract new manufacturers into the category.

Championship points (after round 13)

Jamie Whincup (Holden) 3033
Craig Lowndes (Holden) 2845
Mark Winterbottom (Ford) 2449
Shane Van Gisbergen (Ford) 2414
Garth Tander (Holden) 2388
Will Davison (Ford) 2345
Rick Kelly (Holden) 2211
Lee Holdsworth 1857
Alex Davison (Ford) 1781
Fabian Coulthard (Holden) 1767
12th: James Courtney (Holden) 1677

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