Mark Winterbottom has claimed four ARMOR ALL Pole Positions at Winton Raceway over the years. It is Ford Performance Racing’s test track and Winterbottom has shown plenty of pace at the circuit in his Falcon. But a win at the 3km venue has eluded him.
And it’s not just ‘Frosty’ – FPR has only won once at Winton in the past 10 years.
However, the #5 Pepsi Max Crew driver stood on the podium last year, and had an exceptional drive at the circuit in 2008 in his Ford Falcon BF, managing to make up 19 positions during the 120km race to finish second.
Winterbottom describes it as one of his most memorable races, carving up the field on a circuit notoriously difficult to pass.
He reminisced with v8supercars.com.au on Winton 2008, a weekend full of both promise and heartache.
“It was a tough weekend,” he began.
On hard tyres, Winterbottom had qualified on pole by an impressive 0.397 seconds, ahead of Jamie Whincup, with a 1min 22.9727sec.
“I think I was the only driver in the ‘22s’ at the time. Around Winton on the hard tyres, we’d never seen it before, so it was one of the best laps of qualifying I’ve ever done.
“The weekend was really starting well. Winton is so hard to pass, once you’re on pole you think you’re 90 percent of the way there.
“Race One I had a three second lead for about three laps and got a right rear flat tyre. I remember it went down and I had to pit in a race when no one else pitted.
“I was gutted. I had the fastest car and was back in the pack.”
Winterbottom managed to drive his way up to 21st from last, and as it was a progressive grid in 2008, started 21st for the second of the three races the following day. And he managed to make it onto the podium, behind now-teammate Will Davison.
“To drive from 21st to second around that track was pretty special because it’s so hard to pass. It’s such a demanding track and using the speed I had, it was really tough to get past.
“I remember I had a good start and launched. At turn one a few cars tangled, but I was in a good position and came out ok. I was 14th at the end of lap one and every lap I kept taking a car at a time.
“It was a really cool feeling – I didn’t expect second, I thought top 10 would be a mega result.
“It was bizarre – a race from the front when I was fastest and it all goes against me, and then from the back it all goes for me.
“It is definitely one of my most memorable races, purely because of the track we were on, the speed I had and the luck.”
The final race of the weekend saw another tyre failure – this time the front right.
“That capped it off – I think I finished in the sand!
“Right rear heartache, awesome race, to right front heartache and ending in the sand. It was one of those weekends. You have the fastest car and it looks like you should get a result, but there are so many mechanical components in these cars that can bite you sometimes.”
It’s not just scoring that elusive first win that makes Winterbottom hungry for a result this weekend, but the pride that would come with winning on the team’s test track. But, he warned, testing there can be a hindrance rather than help.
“The test day we had was really good, before Willowbank (Coates Hire Ipswich 360) – but it depends on what the track does. It’s a really tough place to know exactly what to do with the set-up.
“Tyre life wins it there and this year that’s our strength. But there’s really changeable conditions there as well. If it’s a hot day it will do something, but a cold day is completely different, so you have to try and keep on top of the game.
“When you test there you have a rough idea but that can lure you into a certain set-up, whereas the Queensland teams are fresh and have no expectation… Although we’re confident, we need to be versatile with the set-up.”
It’s both the speed and the tyre life that is the winning combination, according to Winterbottom. And both the front and rear tyres will wear.
“We’ve always had a quick car that hasn’t lasted the distance,” he said.
“The thing that’s going to win is the fastest car right at the end with the best tyres. Last year, we thought I had a good car, but we blew out to 1min27sec lap times, and Whincup was still in the ‘25s’ at the end. It can be a massive gap – two seconds, it’s rare to have that big a gap at the end of a race.
“But we’ve thought through that. We know what makes a car quick there – but making it go the distance is the hard part.”
He flagged an awkward restart for the 60/60 Super Sprint on Saturday.
“You might only get one chance to pass, so I think you’ll see a bit more aggression than other tracks where you can be more patient … plenty of carnage I think.”