Motorsport: V8 focus is on battle to be No 2
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Top title is won, but Kiwis are among contenders for the series runner-up spot.
Before the last round of the V8 Supercars championship even starts this weekend in Sydney, Jamie Whincup has already sealed his sixth title.
And his Red Bull Racing Australia team has the teams championship wrapped up, so it would seem nothing to play for on the streets of Homebush in Sydney.
Nothing could be further from the truth - there's the battle for second place behind Whincup.
Craig Lowndes wants to push past Mark Winterbottom to get another one-two for Red Bull; Winterbottom wants to match his previous best series finish of second, in 2008.
New Zealanders' eyes will also be on the battle between the next three drivers on the points table, who are all Kiwis.
Shane van Gisbergen (fourth), Scott McLaughlin (fifth) and Fabian Coulthard (sixth) have all experienced the highs and lows of motorsport this season.
But all three come to the end of the season inside the top six with three races to go and 300 points up for grabs.
Tekno Autosport's van Gisbergen trails third spot in the championship by 39 points and is well poised to strike if Lowndes and Winterbottom are distracted by their battle.
The Kiwi should go well over the weekend - he's finished on the podium in five of the last seven races since 2010 with four third places and a win.
"We've come good towards the end of the championship and it's a possibility we could end the year in third," said van Gisbergen.
"It'll be pretty hard, though, to beat the Red Bull guys on tracks like these, especially Craig [Lowndes is the only driver to have won twice at Olympic Park]. Don't worry, though, we'll be going for it, that's for sure.
"It can go either way as it's so hard to get things right on street circuits and here in Sydney there are three races so we have to get it right all three times and make no mistakes.
"Sydney is one of the toughest street circuits we do and the heat is a big factor. On the plus side there's a fair amount of passing places, which is unusual on a street circuit and it's always an exciting place for the fans to watch."
Meanwhile, McLaughlin will have his mirrors full of Coulthard who is just 15 points behind the Volvo driver. The 200-plus points gap to van Gisbergen will be too much of a big ask to jump, so the pair will be concentrating on Chaz Mostert and James Courtney who are tucked in behind just seven and 15 points respectively behind the Kiwis.
"For me it's been a pretty awesome season," said McLaughlin. "I didn't come into it with too many expectations and for us to now be top five with four wins and nine poles it's been an amazing season.
"Everyone is trying to get top five so we'll just have to keep doing what we did at the last round [race win] and keep our heads down and get the most points.
"Whatever happens will happen and I'm just going to go out there and do my thing. The Sydney track is very bumpy and hard on the cars and you have to get very close to the walls.
"To be honest, it should be a really good, full-on race weekend."
Young McLaughlin has had a stand out year with Gary Rodgers Motorsport and has proved beyond all doubt that he and the Volvo belong at the top table of V8 racing. Coulthard, on the other hand, will probably be scratching his head a little over how a promising start to the season, which saw him top three at one stage, sort of slipped away.
However, having realised his chance of winning the title isn't going to happen this year, Coulthard is well fired up to make sure he finishes 2014 somewhere on the podium over the next two days.
"The year's been up and down and I want to finish it on a high and have a good Christmas, not worry about a bad last race weekend," he said. "It would be good to send Lockwood [car sponsor change for next year] off on a good note.
"This weekend's race will be interesting as there's zero room for error on a street course and everyone's pushing the envelope. We should have had a much better weekend last year than we did due to a $2 part breaking and the incident with Shane on Saturday.
"We slipped away a bit mid-season ... and because everyone is so close the smallest of miscalculations can make the biggest of impacts with race results. When the top 15 are covered by less than an eighth of a second, the team doesn't have to do much wrong for you to miss out by heaps. We'll be aiming to end the season with at least a podium finish."
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