Championship leader Mark Winterbottom says Steve Owen will surprise a few people when he jumps into the Pepsi Max Crew #6 at the Coates Hire Sydney 500 this weekend.
Former full-timer Owen raced as Winterbottom’s co-driver through the enduros and replaces injured Chaz Mostert this weekend.
While young star Cameron Waters took the role from the Gold Coast onwards, his full focus will be on the Dunlop Series this weekend.
With Prodrive racing for the teams’ championship – with just a 71-point buffer over Red Bull Racing Australia – it’s imperative to score points and race at the front at the tough street track.
After winning the Wilson Security Sandown 500 and finishing second at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 this year, Winterbottom supports Owen’s step up.
“I think he’ll go well … he’s very talented,” Winterbottom told v8supercars.com.au.
“He’ll surprise a few people and he won’t take sh*t either.
“I think he’ll be really good – I rate him, he’s one guy who should be in the category full time. And these are their opportunities – with nothing to lose, go out and have a play.
"I think he’ll do really well.”
While Owen is used to playing a supporting role as a co-driver – bringing home a straight car so Winterbottom could push for the win – he has a real chance to have a go this weekend.
“It’s a big jump but I can’t wait to get out there and not have to be conserving someone else’s championship – that’s the biggest thing for me,” Owen said.
“It’s a slightly different role being the lead driver, but it’s not like I haven’t done it before, either.
“I’ve raced Homebush in the Dunlop Series, and for a couple of years in the main game, so it won’t be a first for me – but a first with these guys.”
He’s aware of the importance of securing the teams’ championship, and the level of performance that will require, given the momentum of Red Bull’s Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup. It’s Lowndes ‘Frosty’ is facing off with in the drivers’ Championship, the Pepsi Max driver holding a 179-point lead heading to Sydney.
“Between Frosty and myself, we’ll have to score about as many points as Craig and Jamie – so we won’t be able to muck around, that’s for sure,” Owen said.
“It’s not ideal going to the last round like Homebush trying to win the championship … it’s an unforgiving sort of track.
“It’s a great track, I love it, but when you’ve got a championship to consider it always makes it tricky.”
The #6 will be set up like Frosty’s car, so Owen will be comfortable. There will be some focus on improving the Ford FG Xs, given the team’s history with street cricuits.
“Street circuits have probably been the weakness with the cars – they were really competitive at Sandown and Bathurst and not as competitive at the Gold Coast,” Owen said.
“So that’s one thing we’re going to try and work on as well. Obviously there are a few street circuits on the calendar and it’s important to perform at them all.”
A two-time Dunlop Series champion himself, Owen backed Prodrive’s decision to allow Waters to focus on winning that title across the coming weekend. He has a 149-point lead over Paul Dumbrell.
“It’s going to be really tough just doing the main game alone – to throw in the Dunlop Series, then you’ve got two slightly different cars you’re driving on the same weekend,” Owen said.
“It’s important for him, for his career, and for Prodrive to wrap up that championship, so I think it’s worked out well.”