A new respect
- By Kassie Gadeke
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
As he chases his dream of a V8 Supercars Championship, Mark Winterbottom says he has gained more respect for six-time Champion and long-time rival Jamie Whincup.
Winterbottom leadsProdrive stablemate David Reynolds by 239 points and Red Bull's Craig Lowndes by 240 heading into the penultimate round of the 2015 Championship.
It is the best position the Pepsi Max driver has ever been in - despite finishing in the top five every year since 2006 - but Winterbottom still described it as a tough one.
"It's a tough position, but it probably makes you respect the guys in the past - we've had times we've put pressure on someone like Jamie Whincup," Winterbottom said.
"When you're not the leader you don't get all those questions - the this, the that, the opinions, the drama that goes with it. So you do respect someone like Jamie in the past, who has held on to win six championships.
"You don't see that side of it until you're leading and we've never gone into two rounds to go leading, so it's a different position for us.
"Probably learning who your real mates are and stuff like that - but at the end of the day we've got to trust our team, trust ourselves and do the best job we can."
Winterbottom's comments come after plenty of talk that the Holden drivers would stick together to help Lowndes win the title for the red lion.
James Courtney expressed his support for Lowndes prior to Pukekohe and reaffirmed it on Inside Supercars earlier this week, as the panel dissected past championship victories aided by assistance from teammates.
However even if Winterbottom's teammate Chaz Mostert was racing, chances are he - like Reynolds - would also be in the hunt for the title. Instead rookie Cameron Waters steers the #6 this round at Phillip Island.
Winterbottom knows all that will be irrelevant if he can start up the front and stay out of trouble.
"The only way to eliminate that is to get clear at the front, have the pace and then drive away. So that's got to be our focus," Winterbottom said.
"It's more important than ever to stay clean, but also get lots of points, so focus on that, we'll hopefully if we can do that the rest will be ok, but that's motor racing, you can't control some things and it'll always create some sort of drama."
Winterbottom has earned just one ARMOR ALL Pole Position this season, but has started second on the grid 11 times. Mostert continues to lead the pole count for the year, and was the reason his teammate started P2 on many of those occasions.
While Winterbottom, with Steve Owen, earned second place at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000, it was a dramatic run for the #5 driver after an electrical issue and stop-go penalty during the race.
He then had his worst round of the year at the Gold Coast, with Lowndes taking a big chunk out of his lead.
New Zealand was a tough one for Lowndes, who suffered a tyre explosion while leading, and Winterbottom also had troubles, spun in the mid-pack in Sunday's big points race and failing to set foot on the podium.
"The last round at Pukekohe is probably where we struggled qualifying - when you're in a pack drama happens so that's got to be the focus qualify up there, use the race pace and stay out of trouble," he said.
"If we qualify up the front, a lot of the secondary issues take care of themselves.
"Make the car as quick as possible and try and get clear - that's what we need to do."
Winterbottom has a solid record at Phillip Island, with two wins to his name. Lowndes has a whopping nine - the record, shared with Mark Skaife - while Reynolds' best finish is sixth place.