Frustrated factory Ford racer Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom islooking to kick-start his V8 Supercars season by claiming victory at thisweekend’s inaugural Austin 400 in Texas, an event he rates as prestigious asBathurst.
The Pepsi Max Falcon FG driver could have won multiple racesalready this year and be vying with arch-rival Jamie Whincup for the Championshiplead, but instead he is winless and ranked only ninth on points after a series ofmechanical, pit and racing dramas.
And adding to Winterbottom’s woe is the fact his winlessstreak now extends back a full 12 months. Victory at the Circuit of theAmericas would not only be a relief but a great way to celebrate his 32ndbirthday next Monday (May 20).
“I am frustrated to be honest,” he told V8Supercars.com.au.“I think I could have won four races by now if tyres didn’t blow and gearboxesdidn’t fail and safety cars didn’t come out and all those sorts of things thatgo on.
“I know I have a good car and I know I am driving to itslimits and in terms of speed I have been getting the most out of it.”
Winterbottom hopes COTA, which he visited while it was beingconstructed last year, will be where obvious speed gets turned into a tangibleresult.
“It’s exciting to go there, it’s almost the round of theyear,” he declared. “I have always wanted to race in America so to do it in ourown category is even cooler.
“A lot of fans from Australia are going over and it’s goingto be one of the big marquee events. It’s always been Bathurst and then Clipsalin order of priority of what you want to win, but I think that first race atTexas there will be a lot of pride in winning that one. I am looking forward toit and I think it will be a great event.”
The only downside he can see is the pit window for themandatory stop to change hard tyres in each of the four 100km races opens onlap 10 of 27.
“I think it should open on lap five so then it actually addssome strategy,” Winterbottom argued. “Open the window on lap 10 and everyonewould be in within two laps.
“If you stop on lap five that means you have to do 22 lapson a set of tyres whereas if you stop on lap 10 you only do less than 20. Soyou’d see people going long and pitting late and you’d see the cross-over.”
Even if he sweeps Texas, Winterbottom is conscious the 292points gap to Whincup will still be almost impossible to bridge until theenduros, and only then if he avoids DNFs and the Red Bull Racing Commodoredriver has a terminal failure in one of the big points endurance races.
“I am in the position of not being able to afford a racethat goes wrong,” he said. “I have to have perfect reliability from here to theend of the year and that’s a big ask from a new car. But you are never out ofit with Bathurst, Gold Coast and Sandown… they are all massive points rounds.If someone has a DNF there and I don’t then I can be quite easily be back init. But it’s not an ideal situation to be in.”
Some things have gone right for Winterbottom this year;early season horsepower deficiencies have been quickly addressed by FPR: “Theguys have been working really hard and done a really god job and found a lot ina short space of time.”
He is also enjoying the relationship with his new engineerJames Small, who was moved from David Reynolds pre-season, while CampbellLittle now engineers new team member Alex Davison’s Jeld-Wen Falcon.
“Campbell was really great, but sometimes you get a littlebit stale, you work together for four years and maybe you don’t go in-depthbecause he thinks he knows what I am talking about and I am thinking he understands.But James is definitely challenging me more and that’s no disrespect to Campbell.It’s just another guy asking me a different way and I was probably lazy with Campbell,so it was good.”
Winterbottom denied pitlane rumour that he had asked Smallto swap against Reynolds’ wishes, or that the move had caused discontent withinthe team.
“People see engineers changing and they think there aredramas, but it actually works really well. I was nervous at first coming off agood year and with new cars. But it was perfect timing to do it.”