Mark Winterbottom has urged Ford fans to stick with him after his first win of the year at the Winton 400.
The Pepsi Max Crew FPR driver now sits second in the Championship after an up and down weekend from Red Bull Racing Australia, and one of his best starts to a title race in several years.
Following a pit lane penalty against Kiwis Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin, Winterbottom’s victory ahead of the Walkinshaw Racing Holdens of James Courtney and Tim Slade was a relatively straight forward win.
Not much has gone the way of Winterbottom until today but he has made the most of opportunities and other’s misfortune as he consolidates his points, prompting the inevitable question from Ford fans after four years of Holden Championships.
“We have maximised our points. It’s the best we have been at the start of the year for a long time. We have got some good things coming at the team so I thought if I could survive these first few rounds we could be fighting pretty strong,” Winterbottom said.
“You have got to get points when the other boys struggle. We have seen year in, year out where they have had one or two bad rounds. If you have one bad round with them you just can’t catch them.
“We are better than I thought we would be.”
Winterbottom said the expectation came not only from the fans but from within.
“We got written off after round one and we finished fourth. People expect you to win and that’s the pressure we have on our team and it’s the expectation we have as well. They have every right to have expectations.
“It’s good to pay one back, we will get a few more hopefully.”
Winterbottom benefitted from a drive-through penalty on Coulthard, one of five drivers to get caught speeding in pit lane, when the Kiwi was hot on his heels. Winterbottom ensured he did not suffer the same fate.
“We know the rules. Some guys try and make up a lot of time under breaks into the lane. They have got that timing loop there now whereas three years ago you could barrel into there under brakes. Now they have fixed it.
“I wanted to race him. We could have held on with him behind us but it definitely made it easier when he came in. But he was quick, very quick.”
At the start of the race McLaughlin tore away from the start from van Gisbergen who appeared to help his Kiwi counterpart. Van Gisbergen was clearly struggling with an issue and finally relented to the field as they stacked up behind him. He went from second to thirteenth in less than a lap.
But Winterbottom chipped away as tyres appeared to make a difference and after 17 laps was hot on McLaughlin’s rear bumper. Winterbottom took the lead two laps later.
It didn’t matter in the end when McLaughlin was given a pit lane penalty for speeding in pit lane, meaning the young Kiwi had to drive through the pit lane, ending up in the middle of the pack.
With Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin’s problems the work for the Kiwis was left to Coulthard who had gone quietly about catching Winterbottom, but had to take on more fuel in his last stop.
But the only other New Zealander hit trouble when he became the fifth driver and the second Kiwi to receive a drive-through penalty for speeding in pit lane.
A timing loop at the start of pit lane measures time and distance between two points. Anything over the 40km/h average will be detected across that distance.
"I felt like I was definitely under the speed but whatever the system is you have to abide by it so it's pretty disappointing,” Coulthard said.
“That's life though, you've got to roll with the punches and overall it's been a good weekend. We've had two poles and two podiums so we really can't leave here too disappointed but on the downside we could have finished the weekend a whole heap better than we did.
“Anyway, that's the way it goes, chin up and onwards and upwards to the next one."
Making up the final top 10 were Jason Bright, David Reynolds, Chaz Mostert, Lowndes, Michael Caruso, James Moffat and Whincup.
Coulthard came home 11, Van Gisbergen 12 after a “performance issue” early in the race, yesterday’s winner Lee Holdsworth 15, McLaughlin 16, and second the second HRT Commodore of Garth Tander 23.
This afternoon’s run shakes up the Championship, with Winterbottom just 28 points shy of Lowndes, Coulthard dropping to third, Courtney back into fourth and Whincup completing the top five.
The V8 Supercars will next be on-track over the ANZAC Day weekend for the ITM 500 Auckland, from April 24-27.