Race winner Mark Winterbottom thought the battle with last car on-track Aaren Russell was the end of his race win in the intense final stages of the 200km Perth SuperSprint.
Winterbottom was on an alternate strategy on older tyres, trying to maintain a gap to second place runner Scott McLaughlin, who was under siege from Craig Lowndes. Rookie Russell, who was on fresher tyres, caught him with five laps to go.
The Erebus racer got by at turn one but then was no faster than ‘Frosty’ for much of the lap. The train closed in on The Bottle-O Falcon but Winterbottom was able to hold on and take the win by just 0.3 seconds.
“I thought that it was gone, I thought the race was over – I said to the crew, ‘yep, that’s it, game over’,” Winterbottom said.
“Then he [McLaughlin] caught me and then Lowndes had a crack and I’m like, ‘beauty, let’s go’. So we just got there in the end, it is what it is.”
Winterbottom wasn’t mad about the situation, saying he understood Russell wanting to stay on the lead lap and finish his race.
“It was frustrating, but he’s trying to get his lap back, I understand.
“When you pass someone you take off, but he just didn’t take off. So not only did he pass me and cost me a second and a half, he created heaps of aero wash, so it was frustrating…
“I’ve been there before, but if I can’t pass the car and take off I probably would’ve just sat there [behind]. But whatever, I’m not angry – if we had’ve lost the race, we had’ve lost the race. But trying to get his position back and race for himself – like I said, he’s not helping me out, he’s there for himself.”
Russell didn’t back down on his driving, confirming he was pushing to stay on the lead lap in the final stages of the race.
“It was quite simple – I had better tyres at the end of the race and he was obviously struggling, so I did what any other racer would do and that’s keep going fast and overtake him and keep going on with our own race,” Russell said.
He hadn’t heard Winterbottom’s comments on the finish, but was firm on his position.
“What do they want me to do, just sit there? I’m a racer, I’m not here to come behind anyone, I want to keep going. I don’t want to finish a lap down, no one does.
“So at the end of the day it’s probably an unfortunate situation … but I’d do it again tomorrow and if any racer didn’t say the same thing I did, they shouldn’t be out there.”
The Plus Fitness racer is new to the championship this year and expressed just how important results are for him.
“I’m not in this championship [with] longevity at this stage – I’ve got to race for my career here, I’m not sitting here racing for a paycheck or anything, I don’t have that at the moment.
“They can be cranky at the end of pit lane if they want to be, but at the end of the day they still won the race and I’m going to run my race.
“I’m not just going to fold over under pressure and let them keep me a lap down. I want to finish on the lead lap and try and progress myself as well.”