Mark Winterbottom is kissed by his wife Renee after he clinched the 2015 V8 Supercars Championship. Photo: Mark Horsburgh Winterbottom with his son, Austin, after the race. Photo: Mark Horsburgh
Mark Winterbottom drove with pace, patience and professionalism to cement his first V8 Supercar championship at Sydney’s Olympic Park street circuit on Saturday.
In emotional scenes after wrapping up the title, the 34-year-old immediately paid tribute to his mother June, the woman who brought him up alone but who died from cancer four years ago – too soon to see her son achieve his greatest triumph.
“It’s awesome, I had a few tears in my eyes on that final lap. I am so emotional … to have mum on the helmet all year, I wish she was here, I am speechless.
“I am over the moon. I have been with Ford a long time, been with the team for a long time, but we got it done,” he said seconds after stepping out of his title-winning Falcon.
The Ford driver has been one of the most consistent men in the series for the past decade, but had always come up short as contemporaries Jamie Whincup (six titles between 2008 and 2014) , James Courtney (2010), Garth Tander (2007), Rick Kelly (2006), Russell Ingall (2005) and Marcos Ambrose (2004) all won championships after he made his full time debut 11 years ago This time he finally got his reward, but he had to wait until the penultimate race of the season to make sure.
Veteran Craig Lowndes managed to keep the fight for the title going until the second of the 125-kilometre races around the Olympic Park precinct on Saturday afternoon, but Winterbottom, who put on an assured display all day, was not going to be denied this time.
Winterbottom came to the final weekend of the season holding all the aces, and on Saturday everything that could have gone right for him did, while for Lowndes, who remained a mathematical chance of winning, everything went wrong.
Winterbottom put his Prodrive Racing Falcon on pole position for the first race, while Lowndes, on a hot lap during qualifying, put his Holden into the wall.
That meant Lowndes had to start from the back of the grid, while his adversary was able to control his own destiny from the front.
Winterbottom showed pace and patience in equal measure as he decided not to indulge in a death-or-glory gamble to win the race but to stay out of trouble, finish as close to the front as he could, and pick up as many points as possible.
Lowndes had no option but to go flat out from the start. He opted for an adventurous strategy by staying out as long as he could before taking his compulsory pit stop on lap 24 of the 37, hoping to make up track position by pitting out of the normal sequence.
It worked up to a point, as the 41-year-old climbed from 25th to finish 15th behind his Triple Eight teammate Whincup, who was scoring his seventh race win of 2015. Whincup finished the campaign strongly, but not enough to keep him in the hunt for what would have been an extraordinary fifth successive title. The individual race may go to the fastest, but the championship ends up with the man who is consistently quick through the season.
Winning a title requires speed and power, but it also calls for race smarts, tactical awareness and a strong support crew.
Winterbottom, who has been with Ford throughout his career, will proudly carry the No.1 on his door in 2016.
He said he “can’t wait” to have the number one sticker on the side of his Falcon when he suits up to defend his crown next season.
The Melbourne-based Sydneysider hailed his first win as the culmination of everything he had spent a lifetime working to achieve.
“Everything that you have ever raced to get here has been an achivement…. and I have stayed at the one team for such a long time, it’s years of work.
“To win one (title) is fantastic, it a piece of history…2015 champion, it can never be taken off (me),” he said.
“It’s going to be awesome to have that on the door. Number one is really cool to put on the door.
“I am really proud of everyone….I was tearing up at the end. It’s an emotional thing… to get the ultimate reward, it pours out…
“It pieces together all the years of hard work and results. Bathurst (which he won in 2013) was the first part of it. It just feels like you have finished something you started a long time ago.”
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