Under-fire Mark Winterbottom has conceded he has no hope of winning the V8 Supercars Championship unless Ford Performance Racing finds more speed in his factory Pepsi-Max Falcon.
From leading the Championship by 161 points after his brilliant Sunday 200km victory in Race 19 in Darwin in June, Winterbottom's results have slumped so horrifically he now trails Red Bull's Jamie Whincup by 135 points in the Drivers' Championship exiting a disastrous Sydney Motorsport Park 400.
"We will be lucky to finish top three if we keep going the way we are," Winterbottom glumly told v8supercars.com.au.
"We are too slow, just not quick enough, and you can't hold on to something when you are slow."
But Winterbottom is hoping that a set-up borrowed from rookie team-mate Chaz Mostert and a closer co-operation in testing could lead to that much-needed speed.
He is also confident of an improved showing at the Pirtek Enduro Cup opener, the September 12-14 Wilson Security Sandown 500, because the point-and-squirt layout plays to the Falcon's strengths.
"I put Chaz's set-up in (on Sunday) and had some success with it... we gained a bit. My race pace was quite good, I was quickest on the hard tyres for quite a while there.
"I was happy to put his set-up in so we could develop together again," Winterbottom added. "We just need to see what works and both work together and charge on."
If FPR does succeed in squeezing better pace from the Falcon, Winterbottom believes his first V8 Supercars Championship is still winnable this year.
"We need to get pole positions; 200 points, even 400 points (deficit) is probably manageable if we can pull our finger out and get up the front."
While Ford's pole drought now extends out 31 races to Philip Island 2013, it's been the last nine races since his epic victory at Hidden Valley that have been Winterbottom's downfall. In that time:
- He has not qualified in the top five and only twice cracked the top 10
- He has not finished a race in the top five and has finished only four times in the top 10
- He has scored 321 fewer points than Whincup, who has qualified no lower than 10th and won four races in the same period.
Mostert, who is new to the team this season, has also done better than Winterbottom in recent rounds, scoring 49 more points and claiming three podiums.
"Grant has just got to get better, his health is more important than anything," said Winterbottom. "It (his absence) definitely upsets the applecart a little bit. In qualifying Campbell made a change and he doesn't know the car ... and we went the wrong way so that makes it a little bit different."
To complete a weekend of misery, Winterbottom was also copping criticism for the collision that put both team-mate David Reynolds (Bottle-O Falcon) and Scott Pye (DJR Wilson Security Falcon) into the wall on lap one of last Sunday's double-points 200km mini-marathon. A controversial drive-through ensured he could do no better than 15th in the race. For the second 200km race in a row he also had to pit for a new tyre after a failure.
Winterbottom was under fire post-race from DJR's Steven Johnson for the clash, and also revealed fans were getting stuck into him and the team for their poor results.
"That's the frustrating thing from fans sometimes, they give you a bollocking. But you are trying hard, you are working hard and when it clicks it is good, but it is just hard sometimes. Everyone is working hard, we are not just sitting there."
The Falcons have struggled for rear grip this season, an issue FPR believes is primarily triggered by the flatter rear wing imposed on the car during aerodynamic parity testing before the 2013 season.
The team has not been able to find the mechanical grip to compensate, which is an important reason why the Falcon lacks qualifying pace and conversely, why it tends to have excellent soft tyre durability.
Winterbottom will have a chance to test settings further at Winton next week, but will also have to give over substantial cockpit time to Pirtek Enduro Cup co-driver Steve Owen, who he regards as a vital asset if #5 is to finish up-front in the long distance races.
"Steve will drag my car up past a lot of other blokes who are co-driving, but you can't rely on just a guy because it will be 60 laps to go at the end and you have got to have a quick car to win the races."