Winterbottom snaps seven-year winless streak

17 Jun
Team 18 veteran hangs on in Darwin thriller
Highlights: Race 13 2023 betr Darwin Triple Crown

Mark Winterbottom has snapped a seven-year, 197-race winless streak with victory in an absorbing betr Darwin Triple Crown opener.

Winterbottom scored his first win since Pukekohe 2016, and the maiden win for Charlie Schwerkolt’s fledging Team 18 squad.

It was the first victory for Schwerkolt’s team in 333 attempts, with 2013 Bathurst winner Winterbottom scoring his first podium since Perth 2018.

Broc Feeney (#88 Red Bull Ampol Camaro) threatened to steal victory from Winterbottom on the final lap, with the veteran hanging on to career win No. 39.

Will Davison completed the podium in third, helping the Shell V-Power Racing Team to its first podium of the season.

Brodie Kostecki (#99 Coca-Cola Camaro) extended his series lead with a run from 10th to fourth, with Darwin local Bryce Fullwood (#14 Middy’s Electrical Camaro) beating Shane van Gisbergen (#97 Red Bull Ampol Camaro) to finish fifth.

Winterbottom took the lead thanks to a fast start and an early-race drama for Cam Waters, who retired from the lead after his Monster Ford went up in flames.

Last lap: Winterbottom beats Feeney by 0.4s

"That's awesome," said 2015 series champion Winterbottom, who left behind a long association with Ford to join Team 18 in 2019.

"I told Charlie when I joined that we'd win, and far out it's taken a while. It was really hard work.

"Obviously to Cam as well, his car was on fire, bloody scary fire. We were having a good battle there, he was in the mix.

"For Charlie, this is a big one for him."

Waters won the start to Turn 1 from pole position, with Winterbottom fighting his way into second past Feeney.

The early laps featured a lot of push and shove; James Courtney spun his #5 Snowy River Caravans Mustang at the last corner after hitting Andre Heimgartner (#8 R&J Batteries Camaro), David Reynolds (#26 Penrite Mustang) bowled a wide at Turn 1, and Declan Fraser (#56 TRADIE Mustang) was also turned around.

The pole-sitter’s race lasted all of four laps, with fire breaking out in the #6 Monster Energy Mustang down pit straight.

Waters safely pulled over on the run to Turn 2, quickly got out of his burning car, and helped marshals extinguish the flames.

Scary moment for race leader Waters

The bp Ultimate Safety Car was immediately called, and the entire field jumped into the lane for their compulsory stops.

Amid drama on and off the track, Winterbottom emerged the leader ahead of Feeney, Davison, Fullwood, Kostecki and van Gisbergen.

Several drivers benefited from the pit logjam; Kostecki jumped from 10th to fifth, Anton De Pasquale (#11 Shell V-Power Mustang) from 12th to ninth, Chaz Mostert (#25 Mobil 1 Optus Mustang) from 17th to 11th, and Will Brown (#9 Coca-Cola Camaro) from 19th to 12th.

The drama continued on the lap 11 restart, with van Gisbergen and Kostecki getting stuck into it for fifth.

All the while, Scott Pye (#20 Hino Camaro) dropped out of the lead battle after suffering right-rear panel damage in a Turn 6 logjam, and dropped to 12th, where he would finish.

Winterbottom opened up a 1.2s lead over Feeney, which was wiped away on lap 16 once the Safety Car was deployed for a second time due to a grass fire near where Waters stopped.

The #18 DEWALT Camaro led the field to green on lap 19, with Davison, Fullwood, Kostecki, van Gisbergen, Brown, Tim Slade (#23 Nulon Camaro), De Pasquale and Mostert completing the top 10.

Kostecki, van Gisbergen get into it on frantic restart

Feeney shadowed Winterbottom all the way to the chequered flag, with Davison holding third as Fullwood fell into the clutches of Kostecki and van Gisbergen.

On lap 30, Kostecki out-dragged Fullwood for fourth down pit straight, leaving the #14 Middy’s Electrical Camaro vulnerable to van Gisbergen.

On the 35th and final lap, Feeney mounted a major challenge, but was unable to shake the 606-race veteran.

The end margin between the top two was just 0.4561s, with Davison securing the Shell V-Power Racing Team’s first podium of the season.

Fullwood was fourth ahead of van Gisbergen, who dropped away to finish sixth ahead of Brown.

It was later revealed that Erebus Motorsport requested an investigation into van Gisbergen driving dangerously slowly on the final lap, but it was dropped.

Mostert, De Pasquale and Slade rounded out the top 10.

Winterbottom took home all 105 points on offer with the fastest lap bonus points, having clocked the best time on lap 3.

Kostecki will carry an extended 103-point lead over Brown into Sunday, with Feeney jumping van Gisbergen into third.

Mostert drops from third to fifth, and is 186 points down. Waters remains sixth, albeit 309 points behind Kostecki.

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