Defending V8 Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom has bounced back from a nightmare opening race to win the feature race of the Perth SuperSprint at Barbagallo Raceway.
The Prodrive Racing driver – who finished 22nd in Saturday’s rain-affected race won by Craig Lowndes – became the year’s eighth different winner in the opening nine races of the season thanks to a canny pit strategy by his team.
Opting to run two stops when much of the field elected for three tours through the pits, Winterbottom narrowly hung on with fast-fading tyres to finish less than one second clear of Volvo’s Scott McLaughlin and Saturday race-winner Craig Lowndes.
Winterbottom started the race from the second row, but slipped down the field as he tried to stretch his opening tyre stint and make his strategy work.
Front-row starter Craig Lowndes emerged as the best of the three-stop runners, but ultimately wound up third behind McLaughlin, who opted for a similar tyre strategy to Winterbottom.
McLaughlin and Lowndes both made their final stops on the same lap, but it was the Kiwi who nipped into second on the pair’s out lap when Lowndes left the door open at Turn 6.
It was all the invitation the Volvo driver needed, and Lowndes was left to kick himself for the error, being unable to find a way past over the rest of the race.
The pair’s final stint tyres were seven laps fresher than Winterbottom’s, allowing them both to rapidly close up to the #1 Ford Falcon as the laps ticked down.
Crucially, Winterbottom lost almost two seconds when Erebus Motorsport rookie Aaren Russell cheekily un-lapped himself with five laps to go – the reigning champion exclaimed over the radio that the brash youngster was bound to have cost him a remarkable win.
Nonetheless, McLaughlin and Lowndes closed up to the Ford but couldn’t find a way past; Winterbottom crossed the finish line just 0.3 seconds clear in a tense finish.
The trio finished just ahead of Lowndes’ teammate Shane van Gisbergen, with Nissan’s Rick Kelly and pole-sitter Chaz Mostert – who again struggled with high tyre wear – closing out the top-six. HRT duo Garth Tander and James Courtney ran in close company once again to finish seventh and eighth, ahead of Michael Caruso (Nissan) and Will Davison (TEKNO Holden).
Jamie Whincup finished a frustrated eleventh, with his gamble of pitting earlier than the rest of the field at each of his three pit stops ultimately meaning he didn’t have the tyre life to fight against his fresher-shod, later-pitting rivals. His troubles – coupled with Lowndes’ Saturday win and Sunday podium – mean he slips to second in the Drivers’ Championship standings, 42 points behind his veteran teammate.
Lee Holdsworth (CS Racing Holden), Fabian Coulthard (DJR Team Penske Ford) and McLaughlin’s teammate James Moffat were the only other drivers to gamble with Winterbottom and McLaughlin’s two-stop strategy, but all finished well down the order.
|2016 V8 Supercars Perth SuperSprint – Race 9 Top-10 Finishers (83 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Time|
|1.||Mark Winterbottom||Prodrive Racing Australia||1:22:23.162|
|2.||Scott McLaughlin||Polestar GRM Volvo||+ 0.307|
|3.||Craig Lowndes||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 0.779|
|4.||Shane van Gisbergen||Triple Eight Engineering||+ 1.378|
|5.||Rick Kelly||Nissan Motorsport||+ 1.717|
|6.||Chaz Mostert||Rod Nash Racing||+ 5.163|
|7.||Garth Tander||Holden Racing Team||+ 5.430|
|8.||James Courtney||Holden Racing Team||+ 6.457|
|9.||Michael Caruso||Nissan Motorsport||+ 7.130|
|10.||Will Davison||TEKNO Autosports||+ 9.754|
Image via Motorsport.com