Mark Winterbottom took a crucial step towards his first V8 Supercars Championship at the Wilson Security Sandown 500 today, as Jamie Whincup’s title hopes all but slipped away.
Winterbottom and co-driver Steve Owen took the chequered flag with teammates Chaz Mostert and Cameron Waters completing a one-two finish for the Pepsi Max Fords.
“It’s just awesome to finally get it done,” said Winterbottom of his win in the first round of the Pirtek Enduro Cup. “Last time the team and I won this race was in ’06, and I was in the garage watching (Jason) Brighty, cheering him on. So it’s a completely different feeling almost 10 years later.”
There was plenty to shout about for New Zealand fans with Shane Van Gisbergen turning Saturday’s promising debut into a vital podium in the first of the major endurance races.
After podiums in the opening two starts in Adelaide and Tasmania, it has been slim pickings for the Tekno Darrell Lea Holden driver that saw him fade from championship reckoning.
Starting on the second row of the grid, co-driver and owner Jono Webb drive up to second with van Gisbergen working hard to both preserve fuel and tyre degradation to finish third behind the Prodrive Fords of Winterbottom and Mostert.
“It’s such a good feeling to be up the front again. We couldn’t take it to the Prodrive guys but we tried,” van Gisbergen said. “It was an awesome drive by Jono all day to be upfront. It’s so cool to be up there.
“We have had a few rounds where we’ve been nowhere which has been so frustrating. But the guys at Tekno have worked so hard to get us back fighting with the big boys at the front of the race.
“Just being on the podium is awesome after the last few rounds we’ve had,” said van Gisbergen.
“To be able to push the whole time, not battling and looking in the mirror the whole race is a pretty awesome feeling.”
Winterbottom made it look easy in the late stages of the race, until a Safety Car period to clean up debris on track decimated his lead.
“It killed me. I had a seven or eight second lead, and was starting to think about what’s for dinner. Then the safety car comes out and you’re not hungry anymore!” said Winterbottom.
Whincup and Paul Dumbrell led for the majority of the race until a freak puncture caused by a discarded bolt in pit lane ended their hopes of a record breaking third consecutive Sandown 500 victory.
Van Gisbergen and Webb rounded out the podium, a welcome reward after a lacklustre year for the Tekno crew.
Winterbottom’s Championship has now extended his lead over Mostert to 198 points, with Prodrive compatriot David Reynolds slipping into third place.
Of the other Kiwis, Scott McLaughlin made the most of a pit stop calamity early in the race involving co-driver Alex premat, which saw the Volvo lost two laps, recovering to 14th place.
Fabian Coulthard and Luke Youlden were never happy with the set-up of the Freightliner Holden, starting ninth but finishing mid-pack in 16th.
Super Black Racing recovered well from a disastrous qualifying crash that saw them start at the rear of the field, with Andre Heimgartner and Ant Pedersen working their way through the field for 17th.
Coulthard remains in fifth place overall in the championship with van Gisbergen moving up to seventh and only 74 points behind his compatriot. McLaughlin stands still in 11th and Heimgartner moves up to 20th.
More than 61,000 fans attended Sandown with a packed grandstand cheering on the driver for Sunday’s 500 km race.
V8 Supercars next hit the track at the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 from October 8-11, followed by the final of the Pertek Enduro Cup at the Gold Coast, which leads to the ITM 500 Auckland at Pukekohe Park Raceway on November 6-8. Tickets are available at www.ticktek.co.nz