Saturday Sleuthing: Winterbottom’s 2003 Title Winner
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By V8 Sleuth
This week on Saturday Sleuthing we’re going to take a look at Mark Winterbottom’s first championship-winning V8 Supercar, but it's not the Ford Falcon you’re probably expecting.
Winterbottom’s first title in the category was in fact in the Dunlop Series (then known as the Konica Series) back in 2003. He drove the Milligans Food Group AU Falcon for Stone Brothers Racing and today we take a closer look at this chassis and its interesting history.
Most of the cars we report on find fame and success as main-game rides for the top teams with name drivers and big corporate sponsorships. Then they’re handed down into the development series ranks and race on – but not this one.
While SBR AU6 made its mark in the Konica Series and gave Winterbottom his first taste of V8 Supercar success, it was a car that barely made a whimper in the main V8 Supercars Championship.
The car was rushed into service in late 2002 as David Besnard’s #9 Caltex Havoline car. It was the replacement for Besnard’s previous SBR Ford, which was virtually destroyed at Bathurst by co-driver Wayne Gardner in a Friday practice crash at Griffin’s Bend.
The team worked night and day to ensure the brand new chassis was ready and Besnard debuted the new car at the Gillette V8 Supercar Challenge on the Gold Coast, finishing the weekend in 19th position.
He raced it again at Pukekohe finishing 24th and again at Sandown in the final round with a much improved fourth place overall, his final weekend racing with SBR in a full-time capacity.
And that’s the full extent of this car’s history in the main championship – just three race meetings.
Besnard was replaced by Russell Ingall for 2003 and the new BA model Falcon was also introduced, meaning SBR AU6 was passed down to the Konica Series to be driven by Winterbottom.
The previous year’s Formula Ford championship runner-up to Jamie Whincup, Winterbottom made his V8 Supercar debut in the Konica V8 Series race at Wakefield Park in February 2003.
He drove SBR AU6 to a stunning debut win, repeating the victory in the next two rounds at Adelaide and Eastern Creek.
He raced on to clinch the title at the Winton round and again took victory at the final round at Mallala in August.
SBR AU6 tasted further success at Bathurst later that year when Winterbottom won the 25-lapper non-championship Konica race on the Saturday afternoon.
Another interesting facet of this car’s history is a couple of celebrity drivers who slid behind the wheel in 2003 for their first taste of a V8 Supercar.
AFL star Jason Akermanis ran 10 laps in the car at Queensland Raceway for a Network 10 ‘RPM’ story in July ’03 where he and Ingall swapped roles and ‘The Enforcer’ took part in Brisbane Lions training!
“That was just awesome,” said Akermanis post-drive.
“You watch these guys on TV and think ‘that’s easy’, but nothing could be further from the truth. The acceleration is just amazing and these guys are just so more skilful than you could imagine.”
There was no report on how Rusty went at footy training though!
The next celebrity driver brought a little more racing pedigree to his stint behind the wheel of SBR AU6. The car was run at the Gold Coast Indy event in October with 1996 CART IndyCar Champion Jimmy Vasser turning some laps as part of a story for the Network 10 telecast of the event.
“It’s great, it’s a very good car to drive,” said the now-IndyCar team owner.
“It’s a fun car to drive. I’d need to get the gearbox sorted out and do some testing. I’m in no league to run with these guys.”
Winterbottom drove for SBR in the endurance races in 2003 but, with no spare seats in the team for 2004, accepted a full time V8 Supercar drive with Mark Larkham’s team.
SBR AU6 was sold to Jim Morton for the 2004 Konica Series and was driven as the #60 Decina car by Historic touring car pilot Brad Tilley.
Engines were still supplied by SBR and the link was made stronger later in the year when Greg Ritter – Ambrose’s 2004 endurance co-driver – took over the car and won the final Konica round at Mallala in addition to driving it in the non-points paying Saturday afternoon Bathurst Konica race.
The car was then purchased by former V8 Supercar privateer Chris Smerdon, who ran it in various rounds of the AMRS Touring Car Challenge during 2005 in a series that catered for old V8 Supercars, Super Tourers and Group A touring cars.
The car was not seen for a number of years before re-emerging for the 2008 debut season of the Kumho V8 Touring Car class. Smerdon went on to become the inaugural champion of the class for deregistered V8 Supercars.
Just a few years ago Smerdon restored the car back to its 2002 Caltex Havoline livery and gave the car a run at the Adelaide Motorsport Festival in mid-October. It sits among a handful of SBR-built Falcons retained by the South Australian.
Saturday Sleuthing will take a break next weekend but will return with a story that has plenty of Phillip Island flavour on April 9 to get you in the mood for the WD-40 Phillip Island SuperSprint on April 15-17.
If there’s a car you’d like to see featured in the future, contact the V8 Sleuth via the following methods below: