The 'lone ranger'
- By Kassie Gadeke
- Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
Mark Skaife believes taking the title at Phillip Island will be a huge task for Ford's Mark Winterbottom, as the Ford driver fights an army of Holden Commodores.
Five-time champion and V8 Supercars Hall of Famer described Winterbottom as a 'lone ranger' given he cannot fall back on help from any teammates.
Winterbottom leads Prodrive stablemate David Reynolds by 239 points and Holden's Craig Lowndes by 240, with 300 points on offer at this weekend's WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint.
Fellow Ford driver Chaz Mostert sits sidelined due to injury, and while rookie Cameron Waters has done well, Skaife does not believe he would be in a position to finish up the front and take points away from Frosty's closest competitors.
"For me, Winterbottom is pretty much by himself and that's going to be a difficult assignment when you need teammates or other people around you to help," Skaife said on tonight's episode of Inside Supercars.
"[Winterbottom] hasn't got a Chaz Mostert, so you put a lot of pressure on Cam Waters being up there.
"You haven't got a Dave Reynolds next year, so why would Dave be loyal?
"At the end of the day, you're by yourself, you're the lone ranger ... when you're out there by yourself it's hard work."
Looking at previous title fights at Phillip Island - which held the season finale from 2005 to 2007 - Holden help has been a hot topic.
In 2006, HSV's Rick Kelly won the title from Lowndes - who accused the Holdens of ganging up. His then-teammate Garth Tander got served a pit lane penalty for blocking, and Skaife was given a warning for also backing up the now Nissan driver.
"In those days ... this [was] two factory teams and we in the red cars were helping the guys in the orange.
"That was a big moment in terms of us being able to take a result from the competitors on that day and that was Lowndes' detriment, potentially."
Tander's title win the following year was clinched by HRT's Todd Kelly securing the win over Jamie Whincup in the final race at the Island - another example of factory Holden assistance, Skaife pointed out.
"Garth won that day because Todd Kelly stayed in the lead," he said.
"Garth did a really good job over the course of the season, was very competitive and consistent, but again it was about the teammates and how that assistance helped Tander win the Championship.
"When you think about the weekend, Craig Lowndes has got so much support, Mark Winterbottom - it will be hard work."
Panellist James Courtney bought into the story, saying he would definitely be supporting fellow Holden driver Lowndes where possible, after telling v8supercars.com.au recently he'd prefer the 2015 Bathurst winner to take the title over Winterbottom.
"As a factory Holden team, we'd rather see a Holden win than a Ford - so anything we can do to make Craig's job easier or Mark's job a little bit harder we're going to do," Courtney said on Inside Supercars.
"Looking after our sponsors is part of what we have to do, so more than happy."
Mathematically Winterbottom could clinch the title on Sunday at Phillip Island - Skaife believes that will be the safest way, given the dangers of the tough street circuit in Sydney.
But the saving grace at that event, he says, will be the support of Steve Owen, who will drive #6 while Waters focuses on the Dunlop Series title.
"I think he's very underrated - he's very fast and he did a really good job through the course of the enduros. He's obviously got a bit of match fitness," Skaife said of former full-timer Owen.
"Sydney is an ultra committed place ... I reckon to do a really good lap there is probably one of the hardest."
Earlier this year Skaife said Winterbottom would need to take this year's title if he was ever to win one. Can the blue bloods prevail in 2015?