RACING a Supercars sprint event at Mount Panorama is new territory for all drivers, which means this weekend's Bathurst 500 is the perfect opportunity for Mark Winterbottom to try and claim his first podium result with Team 18.
Winterbottom, entering his third season with the team, has come close to cracking the top three on several occasions during his time with the garage but after an encouraging build up to the opening round he's hopeful 2021 will be a year of big progress.
The 2013 Bathurst 1000 champion has finished fourth on four occasions over the past two Supercars seasons.
Mount Panorama has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Winterbottom since his switch to the Holden team, coming top 10 on both occasions, though he'd naturally love to take the next step.
Winterbottom said while the sprint format gives off a different vibe there are some things about racing at Mount Panorama which never change.
"It's interesting because historically we go to Adelaide where you get set for the street circuit and usually you're racing at Bathurst in October after you've waited 12 months to get back there so it's a strange feeling to be back so soon," he said.
"At the same time, it's going to be great to have fans there, with a big number allowed in. The sprint gives it a different feel but you're lucky enough to race on it once a year, let alone twice, so it's a pretty cool thing to go twice in one year.
"Normally we go to Bathurst to share a car with a teammate, so every session you're in the car.
"Sprint races create high intensity when they're back-to-back whereas in the enduro race it's a longer build up towards Sunday, so it is different in that way, but whether it's the 500 or the 1000 it's still flat out from start to finish."
Winterbottom's best result last season came with a pair of fourths at Hidden Valley while he was eighth in the Bathurst 1000.
"It would be fantastic to start the year with a win but also the momentum that comes with it. Bathurst is a high risk track and the first round can often set the championship picture up. If you have a bad round one then you're often playing catch up the rest of the year," he said.
"There's lots of reasons to get a win there but a win at Bathurst, no matter what in comes in, is always special."
While gained valuable insights from testing wasn't an easy thing to do Winterbottom said the mood among the team is positive ahead of the Bathurst round.
"Because we had a such a long off-season it was quite calm going into testing, whereas normally you're under the pump getting the cars ready. We've recruited a couple of guys who have also been big plusses to the team," he said.
"Testing was really hot so it was really hard to get a true indication of where everyone was at because everyone did their fastest times in the morning then couldn't match them later in the day."