Disappointed and dethroned Virgin Australia Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom has admitted his 2017 prospects of recapturing the title are uncertain.
Winterbottom, who was effectively out of the running for the 2016 title after The Bottle-O Ford Falcon FG X’s Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 brake failure, ended up finishing sixth in the championship with two races wins, 879 points adrift of eventual winner Shane van Gisbergen.
“It took 12 years to win it [the championship] and 12 months to lose it,” Winterbottom told supercars.com. “That’s how I feel about it.”
Winterbottom is resting his 2017 hopes on his Prodrive Racing Australia crew, their continued development of the FG X and the potential for new construction Dunlop tyres to upset the current Triple Eight and Red Bull Racing domination.
“I have this group of guys and we just have to make it work and that’s the priority,” said Winterbottom.
“They all want it, they are disappointed we lost it, not just me. They have worked their arses off and I feel frustrated for them as well as me.
“I am lucky I have those guys continuing to work hard for me.”
The Dunlop 18-inch tyre to be introduced for 2017 comprises a new construction allied with soft and hard tread compounds. Teams won’t test on them until the new year.
“The new tyre is going to be different and that’s going to be a big change,” said Winterbottom.
“So that is going to reinvent what we do as well, because it is a completely different construction tyres.
“That’s something to look forward to, but that’s the only [significant] change.”
Winterbottom indicated there were no other potential ‘silver bullets’ in sight in terms of the developments Prodrive was working on for the Falcon in 2017.
Winterbottom’s 2016 issues centred around the inconsistent performance of the FG X, which had only a narrow set-up window on the more commonly used soft Dunlop tyre and was significantly affected by changes in temperature.
“We are trying, but there is no one thing coming on that makes me say ‘I am looking forward to that’. But on our day we can beat them (T8/RBR), we have still shown that at times this year.
“There were moments where we went ‘we are back’ but then there’s a five degree weather change or three hours later in the day and our car just goes out of the window and we get smashed.
“So when it’s all working we are good, but there is nothing coming that I can go ‘I can’t wait till Christmas because this is coming’.
“There is no staff change or anything like that. We just have to back the team like we always have.”
Winterbottom said he lost confidence in the Falcon when it wasn’t working at its best.
“When you have a car that you have confidence in you can bang doors you can drive in under brakes, you can do all that stuff.
“But once you start losing that … you fire up the inside of someone and the front tyres are going to lock and you are just out of control. You just don’t have the confidence to race.
“It’s really hard. It doesn’t sound hard - like for people outside ‘this has changed a little bit and that’s changed a little bit’ - but when you can’t stop it, turn it, it just makes it tough and these guys (T8/RBR) have no tyre degradation and they are just bloody good.
“That team has jumped us and they have three cars, so instantly you’re fourth and they have a customer car (Tekno Autosport/Will Davison) so you might be fifth.
“And then you throw in the Volvo that has a good race and you might be seventh or eighth.”
Winterbottom rejected suggestions that splitting him and team-mate Chaz Mostert into separate garages had affected performances.
“It helped us because I have had priority all year in terms of qualifying positon because (team-mate) Cam Waters is still coming up to speed and so we haven’t queued once.
“So we have had the perfect window for pit stops and all that sort of stuff. We (Mostert and Winterbottom) still work together.
“I have had priority every race and he has had priority ever race. It would be worse if we were together.”