FORD ace Mark Winterbottom had elation written all over his face two years ago when he finally clinched his maiden Bathurst 1000 win, but this year he is hoping to combine success at Mount Panorama with another coveted V8 Supercars crown.
Winterbottom heads into the first round of the Enduro Cup – this weekend’s Sandown 500 – as the leader of the V8 Supercars’ drivers championship.
His tally of 1915 points has him sitting ahead of Prodrive Racing team-mate Chaz Mostert (1741), with Red Bull’s Craig Lowndes (1660) rounding out the top three.
Winterbottom knows the best way for him to stay at the top of the leaderboard is to keep doing what got him there – win.
He has already notched up eight wins and another five podiums this season and would love to add to that tally at Mount Panorama next month.
“So far the year has been pretty trouble free which has been nice, but we all know what the endurance races can do,” Winterbottom said.
“So much is on the line over the three endurance rounds in the championship, so hopefully we come out if it okay.
“Bathurst is the biggest one as well, it is a risk for the championship, but a massive gain if you win it.”
Now in his 10th season with Prodrive, formerly known as Ford Performance Racing, Winterbottom is on track to continue his consistent record of placing in the top five of the championship each year.
But Winterbottom has never won that crown, his best finish having been a second placing in 2008.
Last year he left Bathurst sitting second in the championship, but ended up placing third behind Jamie Whincup and Shane Van Gisbergen.
He admits being in a position to claim his maiden championship carries extra pressure, but it also shows he is a man in form.
“There is always pressure in the sport, there is always something. You know you are pressured to catch the guy, you are pressured to keep your job – there is always something going on,” he said.
“But being in front usually means you’ve won more races than other people and are doing things right. I feel confident and pretty happy where we are at.
“It is nice to go into these big races with wins and runs on the board, it feels good, the pressure is good pressure rather than having to chase.
“Every round when you get towards the end and you are chasing you seem to get further behind, but when you are leading it’s a different feeling.”
At the three endurance rounds – Sandown, Bathurst and the Gold Coast – each race carries with it enough championship points to drastically alter the standings of each driver.
It means Winterbottom will be pushing as hard as he can and hopes what will be his 13th start in the Great Race is a lucky one.
“We will see after Gold Coast who is sitting where, but it’s 900 points on the line if you win. If you DNF all three races you lose 900 points – it is such a big risk – whereas a normal weekend you get three races, so you pretty well share your results over three races.
“In the endurance races you are pretty well going all or nothing.”