Prodrive star Mark Winterbottom remains confident Ford team can continue to close the gap to the leading Shell V Power Racing and Red Bull Holden squads after returning to form at the Watpac Townsville 400.
After a self-described up and down first half of the season, the 2015 champion says ongoing developments at Prodrive and a simplified approach to setups made a different at the North Queensland track.
Heading to the second half of the year, Winterbottom pointed towards engine development and momentum as key to challenging at the front again.
“It’s been a pretty tough year,” he told Supercars.com
“It’s inconsistency. There’s been some good events and bad.
“I sort of pride myself on consistency and it hasn’t been as strong this year through different reasons.
“But the way I see it, we’re the next best behind the Shell Penske guys and Triple Eight.
“It’s not as bad as some people have made it look. But at the same time two years ago we won the championship. So the expectations are to be winning races.
“Being realistic, you couldn’t catch the (Scott) McLaughlin car. He’s dominating at the moment and (Jamie) Whincup was slightly ahead.
“But we beat (Shane) van Gisbergen and (Fabian) Coulthard in the same car.”
Winterbottom finished on the podium at Towsnville
Addressing the early season inconsistency across the team’s four cars, Winterbottom explained the drivers and engineers had been straying from early setups.
“When you’re not winning and you expect to be winning, you sort of start to make all these funky changes to bridge the gap really quickly,” he added.
“But it’s a sport that doesn’t let you do that a lot of time. You can luck into it one out of ten times and look like a hero.
“But at Townsville we went back to basics in terms of setup. We all started with the same setup and the guys did a good job of only letting us change the car a certain amount; they weren’t letting us be real adventurous.”
Prodrive has been working behind the scenes to improve its engine package, with key time to be found through development.
“The engine will improve over the year for us and hopefully we can get better there. That’s all free time,” Winterbottom continued.
“You can see the Penske guys are really quick in that area at the moment. There’s no weakness.
“Down the straights is free time. You just pull gears and there’s no degradation. They’ve built to that. It doesn’t happen straight away.
“Our team are always trying to improve every area. That’s one of them but we’re trying to make every part a bit quicker.
“You don’t just go ‘I’m going to get a heap of bottom end’ and you just bolt it in. It doesn’t work like that.
“We’ve got things in the car that are not as strong as some of the competitors at the moment, but that sort of stuff is coming.
“When it does, that will boost us a lot quicker as well. You’ve got to know your strengths and weaknesses and not try to get carried away and lose your strengths and make them all weaknesses.”