Returning two-time V8 Supercars Champion Marcos Ambrose has backed Mark Winterbottom and Prodrive Racing Australia as real contenders for this year's title, after Winterbottom nabbed the top spot on the Championship table on Sunday at Winton.
Winterbottom led by one point briefly in Perth, and after a positive performance at the rural Victorian Winton circuit at the last round, has now cleared Red Bull Racing Australia's Craig Lowndes by 13 points.
This time last year, the Prodrive gun had the points lead but was unable to hold on after Queensland Raceway, dropping into what could be considered a form slump until the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 - though a result there was ruined by a clash with Lowndes on-track.
But this time around, Ambrose believes the factory Ford team has the goods to go all the way, and shake the underdog tag it has hadfor years.
"I see that PRA have really come out strong, the changes to their aero kit have clearly given them a major boost; it's going to be hard for ... the other drivers and the other teams to catch up," Ambrose told v8supercars.com.au of PRA, which DJR Team Penske has a technical alliance with.
"What they're doing right now ... you're going to see some domination by PRA like you have in the past from Triple Eight, I think.
"The tides have changed somewhat and good luck to PRA, they've been the underdog for a long time and this year - I think is the year they'll make the step."
Winterbottom first steered a V8 Supercar in the development series, now known as the V8 Supercars Dunlop Series, back in 2003. His entry was fielded by Stone Brothers Racing, which was in its heyday, as Ambrose won his first V8 title that year, backed it up in '04 and came third in the Championship behind teammate Russell Ingall and Lowndes in 2005, Ambrose's last year in Australia before his NASCAR success.
Through the Stone Brothers team, 'Frosty' had the opportunity to learn from Ambrose and Ingall - a valuable opportunity for the youngster. Funnily enough, 10 years ago heading into the Darwin event, Ambrose was the one leading the Championship, as Winterbottom does now.
"He was good to work with, he was on top of his game and that team was as well. It was a pretty good situation. Always helpful and he was the best to learn off, so [I was] pretty lucky to be in that position."
Ambrose also looks back on that time fondly, and made time for a visit from Winterbottomin 2012, showing the Prodrive racer the NASCAR ropes in the United States.
"(Mark's) a really great guy, I wish him the best. I enjoyed hanging out with him back in the day and it was a long time ago now - we're probably talking 13 years ago now - so I'm pleased that it's worked out for him as well as it has. He's been a really solid performer for the series and deserves his success," Ambrose said.
"It's great to see Mark doing well, he's always been a fantastic bloke and great driver and he's had a lot of years to develop his style and hone his skills, and he's doing great with it."
While he's currently working with and mentoring up-and-comer Pye, there's another young gun Ambrose has his eye on as a future star.
"I think if Chaz didn't step on himself in Adelaide it'd be a different story as well, he's done really well," Ambrose said.