Leading from the front

  • 23/11/2015
  • By Bruce Newton
  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship

Mark Winterbottom wants to win the 2015 V8 Supercars drivers' championship from the front.

The Pepsi Max Ford Falcon FG X driver will enter the Coates Hire Sydney 500 with a 179 point lead over Red Bull's Craig Lowndes. But that gap has consistently narrowed in recent months with Winterbottom unable to win a race since the Wilson Security 500 in September or podium since the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 in October.

The Pepsi Max Ford Falcon FG X driver went 7-4-4 in the three races at the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint over the weekend, while Lowndes went 1-3-1 in his Holden Commodore VF to narrow the gap by 61 points.

Lowndes, his Red Bull team-mate Jamie Whincup and Wilson Security GRM Volvo driver Scott McLaughlin dominated Phillip Island, with Winterbottom's Sunday pole positon the only prize the three of them didn't claim.

Winterbottom needs only to finish only 14th on average in the three races at Sydney Olympic Park to clinch his and Prodrive's first drivers' championship. But with one eye already on the 2016 V8 Supercars battle he says that's not the way he wants it to play out.

"I know it's about 14th we have to finish or something like that. But I am not thinking about that, I want to go out and lead and win races.

"Effectively we finish this year and we start again next year and it's no use running number one at (the 2016 championship opening) Clipsal 500 if you are running around chasing those guys and not fast enough.

"I obviously want to win number one but I want to start Adelaide with number one at the front. Qualifying at Phillip Island showed we can do it.

"Red Bull have stepped up and come forward, Volvo have come forward and they are best of the rest. But we have to unlock that next piece."

Having said that Winterbottom also knows his points buffer is a vital advantage for him if he is to claim the number one from Whincup in Sydney.

"A clean weekend in Sydney and we should be fine," said the 2013 Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 winner. "We've just got to go and do it now."

Winning the championship would mean Winterbottom would happily relinquish the tag of the best V8 Supercar driver never to have won the championship, having finished second once, third five times, fourth once and fifth twice in his nine previous campaigns with Prodrive (formerly known as Ford Performance Racing).

"You are desperate for it," the 34-year old said. "I have been chasing it for a long time. It's a dream. Bathurst was one and championship is the other and I would put the championship over Bathurst any day.

"Even winning Bathurst was huge but then number one is the holy grail for me. And you feel that you have had opportunities and it's going to get harder not easier over the years. So you do feel that your time will run out in some ways. You feel that.

"Whether you feel pressure or whatever when people comment on it, the prize is huge and you have one hand on it you don't want to lose it. It would be awesome to win it."

Winterbottom made it clear he was not happy with suggestions he was driving conservatively as he neared the championship despite not having won a race since the Wilson Security Sandown 500 or stood on the podium since Bathurst.

"There are lots of questions and all this sort of stuff going on, but I am just trying to do the best I can," he said. "If you have a car that can get on pole you attack, if you have a car that's good enough to finish fourth, you finish fourth."

He was philosophical about missing the podium yesterday thanks to Whincup shovelling by at MG Corner on the last lap.

"I tried to defend and he had a go. I don't mind about that, he would do that whatever position. When guys run you off the road I reckon that's average.

"But I don't have a major issue with that. I was trying to block, he was trying to have a crack. I knew he would, he knew I would block. That's racing."

Winterbottom said he would relax at home in Melbourne in the lead-up to the championship grand final and rejected the consistent social media theme that he was feeling the pressure of being the points leader.

"It's not like you have to escape it. Everyone thinks you have to be protected or something," he said.

"If you are not talking about it you are thinking about it and stuff. I am loving it, I am enjoying it. Everyone thinks you are cracking. It's such crap.

"I will just play with the kids, they always bring you back to reality," he said.

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