Jamie Whincup remains on track for his fourth V8 Supercar Championship title following victory in Saturday’s opening 140-km race at Winton Motor Raceway.

Whincup’s fourth consecutive win, his 12th of the season, increases his championship lead over Mark Winterbottom to 326 points, with just three races remaining.

The two title rivals started from the front-row on the hard tyres, but after a first lap safety car, polesitter Winterbottom pitted to switch to the quicker soft tyres.

Whincup meanwhile, opted to stay out and remain on the hard compound to fight it out with those who had started on softs. Losing just two places to James Moffat and Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander before pitting on lap 26 for his change to soft tyres, the strategy proved a winning move.

Over the next ten laps, Whincup ripped into Moffat’s ten-second lead, and with 11 laps remaining forged ahead to win comfortably from teammate Craig Lowndes by 3.2s. The one-two victory is TeamVodafone’s fourth this season.

Starting from 15th on the grid, Lowndes made the most of the early safety car period switching to soft compound tyres and storming through into second by lap 37.

Winterbottom on the other hand, lost several positions in the early pit-stop and was then hindered by an incident on lap nine which forced him off the track. Despite this and having to make fuel savings near the end of the race, the Orrcon Steel FPR man climbed to third and looked to be on for a podium finish. Just short of the line though, he ran out of fuel and IRWIN Racing’s Lee Holdsworth snatched his first podium for Stone Brothers Racing by just 0.03s.

After leading for much of the race, Moffat was unable to hold out the late charges from the soft tyre -shod cars and he brought the Team Norton DJR Falcon home in fifth, a personal and team season best position.

The early Safety Car had been called after Jason Bright was spun by Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney sending the Team BOC car into the sandtrap. Michael Caruso also suffered damage in the same incident and was forced to retire his Fujitsu Racing GRM Holden. The lengthy safety car deployment saw the race run to its maximum time – one circuit short of its scheduled 47 laps.

Other casualties included Greg Murphy who retired after making contact with Fujitsu Racing GRM’s Alexandre Prémat on lap five which earned the Pepsi Max Crew driver a drive-through penalty in the process. Shane van Gisbergen and Tradingpost FPR’s Will Davison also retired with suspension damage when the SP Tools Racing driver pushed Davison into Kelly Racing’s Tim Blanchard on lap nine, damaging the two Fords as they turned the Jack Daniel’s Racing Holden around.

The penultimate round, which could see Whincup secure the championship if he leads by more than 300 points, concludes with a longer 200-km race on Sunday.