THERE is no doubt Mark Winterbottom did not get the sort of start to the V8 Supercars’ Endurance Cup that he wanted last month, but there is also no doubting that the Ford Performance Racing star is one of the leading contenders for the 2014 Bathurst 1000.
One of the reasons why his Ford Performance Racing entry is one to be feared is the man who will share driving duties with him in the 161-lap endurance epic – Steve Owen.
He is a man who has stood on the podium at Bathurst before, placing second in 2012 with Jamie Whincup, and is one of just two drivers to have claimed dual Development Series championships.
At Sandown last month Owen battled hard with a car that was difficult to steer and just before handing over to Winterbottom, spun and lost track position.
Winterbottom went on to place 10th – an effort well down on where both men finished at Sandown a year earlier – and lost second place in the drivers’ championship to Craig Lowndes.
But Winterbottom did not blame Owen, saying: “Steve did his best with what we had”.
The defending Bathurst 1000 champion knows Owen’s experience will be a very big asset come time for this year’s Great Race.
“The thing I think Steve is really good at is setting up the car. Because he has raced so many different things, he is so versatile, he can hop out and give exactly the same comments as what I am but he may try and fix it a different way, so you are using two heads to come up with something,” Winterbottom said prior to Sandown.
“When you get young guys that are extremely talented, they don’t have the set up experience that someone like Steve would have.
“They can all drive, but it is those little things that I think separate the guys in demand to the guys that are up and coming.
“Steve is highly-rated, highly-credentialed and is the only driver the team and I wanted to pair with to defend our Bathurst title.
“In my opinion, Steve is the best co-driver in the business. He is the right person to help us as we try and go back-to-back at Bathurst.”
Owen made his Bathurst 1000 debut back in 1999 and placed ninth with Greg Ritter.
Though he has not always been a full-time driver since then, Owen has done plenty of laps at Mount Panorama.
In 2013 he won both Development Series races at Bathurst and earlier this year he was fourth in class in the Bathurst 12 Hour.
Owen also knows the balance he needs to strive for as Winterbottom not only looks for a second consecutive Bathurst crown, but his maiden V8 Supercars championship as well.
“It is a shame that sometimes you might neglect a better result by pushing on at the risk of crashing. But if we need to finish second, third, fourth and that improves the championship, then unfortunately that is what we have got to do,” he said.
“Frosty is pretty competitive and so am I.
“I did five years as a full-time driver, but in a lot of ways I get more excited going to the enduros with a team like FPR knowing that you are a good chance to win.”