On to the AGP

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 07/03/2016
  • By Kassie Gadeke

Defending V8 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom is looking to the Formula One Australian Grand Prix to kick off his year, as he did in 2015.

The #1 Bottle-O driver endured another tough weekend at the Clipsal 500 Adelaide, a circuit that is quickly becoming his bogey track. Winterbottom has never won a race at the street track and was off the pace on Saturday, before a risky call cost him in the odd, rain-affected race yesterday.

Winterbottom knows he needs to play the long game and is not stressed about his 12th place in the championship after notching up ninth yesterday and eighth and 11th on Saturday.

Nissan’s Michael Caruso is a surprise championship leader, with Jamie Whincup ominously sitting in second place. The gap from first to Winterbottom in 12th is 57 points.

“The way the points are, we’re sitting not too far off the lead and had a really bad weekend, so we’ll hopefully do what we did last year and kick into gear at the Grand Prix and get our season back on track,” Winterbottom told v8supercars.com.au. 

“But we weren’t quick enough this weekend on the hard tyres. Qualified well on the softs, but we weren’t quick enough on the hard.”

The Bottle-O racer said he’d need to watch the race back to fully understand what happened, with rain, rules and pit strategy defining the race that was won by South Australian Nick Percat.

The Prodrive Racing stable has a team of engineers that work together on the cars and strategies, but Winterbottom admitted he and second-year engineer Jason Gray went for the wrong play yesterday.

His was one of five cars that did not change to wet weather tyres on the grid once the heavens opened up, and had to start from pit lane after changing tyres. He made a lucky save at turn eight before the race even began. 

Bravery is often rewarded at the Clipsal 500, so Winterbottom couldn’t be too hard on the call.

“The engineer makes the call so he decided to start on slicks and it’s a roll of the dice – it was obviously the wrong call,” Winterbottom said.

“I almost crashed on the out-lap cruising around, so wrong call.

“But if it was dry we would’ve looked liked heroes – the car was good in the wet ... it’s one of those decisions you make and just go with it. If it’s right, it’s right; if it’s wrong, it’s wrong. So we just got it wrong.”

At last year’s Clipsal 500 he placed fifth, 11th and fifth and left seventh in the championship standings before total domination at the not-for-points Australian Grand Prix.

He described this year’s season start as okay.

“We didn’t have the best pace, but the car was a lot different in that [yesterday’s] race to what it was in the previous one. I’m happy we made progress on the changes we were struggling [with].” 

Winterbottom praised the way the race was dealt with in extreme conditions, starting the race under safety car and electing to red flag it until the worst of the rain passed, with a sprint home at the end.

While teams had been focusing on combating extreme heat, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius, the rain threw a massive curve ball at the teams and drivers.

“I actually had a really good car in the wet, we passed a lot of cars in the race and all the minimum fuel and everything played out … it was really confusing so I have to watch it to really work out what happened. Pretty eventful. Good race.”

His new teammate Cameron Waters placed fourth – an impressive result for the youngster – while Chaz Mostert retired after hitting the wall in the wet.

The fourth Prodrive car, run as Super Black Racing, didn’t even start the race after Chris Pither crashed hard on Saturday. He nudged the wall at turn eight and was fired across the track into the concrete of the inside wall. Team boss Tim Edwards suggested the damage would keep the car from running at the AGP, with a significant workload for the crew back at the Campbellfield workshop.

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