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Rain, hail and Frosty: Winterbottom recalls 2003 debut

Supercars
14 Sep
This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of Mark Winterbottom’s debut in a chaotic Sandown 500
3 mins by James Pavey
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  • Winterbottom debuted in the 2003 Sandown 500

  • 'Frosty' qualified 14th and finished 11th with Mark Noske

  • Winterbottom/Noske retired from 2003 Bathurst 1000 with engine problems

The 2003 Sandown 500 couldn’t have been a greater test for a young Mark Winterbottom, who this weekend celebrates 20 years in Supercars.

This weekend’s Penrite Oil Sandown 500 marks 20 years of Winterbottom in the main game, with the then 22-year-old debuting in the 2003 enduros.

Now a seasoned veteran, series champion and Bathurst winner, Team 18 veteran Winterbottom holds a commanding position as one of Supercars’ most popular drivers.

Earlier this season, Winterbottom joined Craig Lowndes and Garth Tander as drivers with 600 starts, before snapping a seven-year winless streak in Darwin.

He was little known in 2003 despite romping to the Konica V8 Supercar Series — now known as the Dunlop Series — title with four round wins in six attempts.

Stone Brothers Racing, which ran Winterbottom’s Konica entry in 2003, put the fresh-faced rookie in with Mark Noske for Sandown and Bathurst.

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Winterbottom qualified the #9 Falcon 14th in the 35-car field, but everything changed on race day as intense rain and hail sent the race into chaos.

Come day’s end, and the Winterbottom/Noske Ford came home 11th in a race that featured a thrilling fight for victory between Mark Skaife and the late Jason Richards.

Bathurst beckoned, and Winterbottom qualified an impressive 18th in a field of 40, beating several veteran drivers and missing a Shootout berth by just 0.4s.

Engine dramas forced the #9 out at Mount Panorama, and while Bathurst victory was always the goal, winning at Sandown proved a big target for Winterbottom.

“Growing up, I wanted to win the Sandown 500, and that want to win had nothing to do with Bathurst,” Winterbottom told Supercars.com.

“My first race was here, and my first ever race win was here with Brighty. It’s a special place for me.

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“It’s a home race too, so there’s always friends and family here. But over the 20 years, far out, there have been a lot of different races here.

“My first race, it was hailing and we were under Safety Car… it was properly bad. It was so slippery, cars were spearing off under Safety Car.”

He only had to wait three years, with Winterbottom combining with Jason Bright and Ford Performance Racing to take out a thrilling 2006 edition of the race.

Bright was forced to hold off a charging Rick Kelly, with the end margin just 0.1586s — the closest winning margin in Sandown 500 history.

Watching on was Winterbottom, who put in a stunning effort after completing over 90 laps at the wheel of the #6 FPR Falcon due to an ill-timed Safety Car.

“I still remember it like it was yesterday, like ’06. That race, I ended up doing 90 or so laps, so Brighty hopped in and went for it,” he recalls.

Best of Sandown 500: Battles for the lead

“He’s such a good driver, he knew he had to win it or bin it. It was the start of FPR being a top team, it was such a big race to win.

“Brighty drove unbelievably well, to muscle out Rick at the end, it was hard watching on from the garage. Walkinshaw cars were so dominant then, and had power in numbers.

“You could feel the pressure in the garage, it was one of the great drives. Compare that to ’15, where we won comfortably.

“Every race has its story. I had pole in ’07, and Halliday speared off after leading by 11 seconds. In ’12, I had to front the stewards after passing Whincup.

“But winning here is everything, you have the big grandstand and the massive crowd, it’s up there with the best podiums we have. I’d love to stand on it again.”

Winterbottom will share the #18 DEWALT Camaro with Michael Caruso this weekend, with track action underway from Friday morning.

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