Look forward not back, that’s the policy adopted by Prodrive Racing Australia as the week-long countdown starts to the final event of 2015 and the 13-year old team’s best-ever shot at winning its first V8 Supercars championship.
Going into the Coates Hire Sydney 500 at Sydney Olympic Park, PRA leads both the both the drivers’ and teams’ championship, a position it has never been in before heading to a season finale.
But its points margins are shrinking in both championships. After the the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint Pepsi Max’s Mark Winterbottom had a 179 points lead over Red Bull Racing Australia’s Craig Lowndes in the driver’s championship with a maximum 300 points to be won.
In the teams’ championship Pepsi Max’s advantage has slimmed to just 71 points over perennial champs RBRA with 576 up for grabs at Sydney Olympic Park.
PRA Team Principal Tim Edwards confirmed the ‘eyes forward’ policy was adopted at an all-staff debrief last Wednesday of the Phillip Island outing, where Winterbottom and his Ford Falcon FG X were effectively the best of the rest behind Lowndes and his Holden team-mate Jamie Whincup and Wilson Security GRM Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin.
There were various issues for the team at the island; The Bottle-O Falcon driver David Reynolds lost second place in the championship after a clash with Tekno Autosports’ Shane van Gisbergen on Saturday for which the Kiwi copped a 25 point penalty; on Sunday Winterbottom lost third place to Whincup’s aggressive pass on the last lap. Prodrive asked for the move to be reviewed without success. There were also complaints from the team and Winterbottom about negative comments about his recent qualifying and race results on both social media and from journalists.
“We had our whole team debrief on Wednesday and we all agreed to put Phillip Island behind us,” said Edwards. “There’s no point talking about what happened there and our frustration with some of the things that happened there.
“It’s far better to put all that behind us and just focus on Sydney and that is what we are all doing.
“We are 100 per cent looking forward because we can’t change the past and the best thing we can do is focus on going to Sydney in the same way we were focussed on going to Phillip Island two weeks ago.”
PRA is going through its usual maintenance schedule with the squad’s four cars at its Melbourne base being prepared for Sydney. They will be loaded on the team transporters and head north on Tuesday.
“They are stripped to a bare shell and everything is being forensically inspected,” said Edwards. “They will all have the freshest possible parts possible on them for the last race.”
Edwards said the emphasis was on making the working environment as normal as possible, but admitted staff would undoubtedly be thinking about the battle to come.
“Everybody is probably nervously apprehensive but I can’t speak for everyone because I don’t know what they are feeling,” said Edwards. “Everyone is going about their job and they are as focussed as they normally are.”
While Winterbottom remains favourite for the drivers’ championship, Edwards conceded Prodrive’s chances of hanging on to win the teams’ championship were slim because of the injured Chaz Mostert’s absence since the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000.
Cameron Waters has stood in for Mostert since Bathurst, but will concentrate on securing the Dunlop development series in Sydney, leaving Winterbottom’s Pirtek Enduro Cup co-driver Steve Owen to take over for the final event.
“It has become a challenge,” said Edwards of the teams’ championship. “That is absolutely the reality.
“We did lose Chaz and putting other people in the car, whether it’s Cam or Steve, they are never going to perform at the same level as someone who has been driving that car and wears it like a glove.
“It’s just the way it is.”
Edwards said instructions to Owen would be simple: “Steve just needs to be there to support mark and just do the best job he possible can.”
Edwards praised Waters’ performance across the two sprint rounds he contested at Pukekohe in New Zealand and Phillip Island. In six outings he qualified no worse than 14th and as high as 10th, while his race results were more varied but highlighted by a ninth at the island.
Waters also refused to be cowed by some of the toughest drivers in the field including the Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander and James Courtney.
Waters, 21, is widely expected to take over the driver in the Prodrive-run Rod Nash Racing entry in 2016, which has been campaigned for the last three years by Reynolds.
“He’s done a good job,” asserted Edwards “He has managed to qualify around that top 10, which is a good effort for someone who has just stepped into the championship like this.
“I think he has realised pretty quickly they play for sheep stations in this category – a bit more than they do in the Dunlop Series.
“Everyone is just driving at 100 per cent and they are all very close. It is not like the Dunlop series where if you drop back there is a difference in car speed and driver ability the further back you go. In this category there is 25 cars doing a fantastic job and 25 drivers doing a fantastic job.
“But for me the thing I am most pleased about is in qualifying he has been able to qualify 10th and around that mark. That is a good start.”