Mark Winterbottom has kept himself in the championship mix by winning the second race of the Falken Tasmania Challenge round of the V8 Supercars series, withstanding race-long pressure from the chasing pack to win a rain-hit 84-lap race.
The start of the race presented the 29-car field with the first truly wet race start since the 2008 Sandown 500, and Winterbottom’s opening lap aggression was a real clincher in sealing victory today.
Beaten off the line by fellow front-row starter Jason Bright, ‘Frosty’ retook the lead with from Bright at the end of the back straight. Diving up the inside of Bright into the Turn 6 left-hander, Winterbottom slid wide on the damp track, and the pair made light contact. This in turn allowed Craig Lowndes to have a run on Winterbottom to take the lead, but the Ford Performance Racing driver hung on as the race started its second lap.
Lowndes’ race would go pear-shaped just a few laps later when he pulled his gear shifter out of its meshing. He pitted for repairs, but it happened again, and the Race 1 winner had no choice but to park his Vodafone Holden.
Track conditions steadily improved as the weather eased, and by mid-race a dry line had emerged around the short circuit, enough for the field to switch to the dry Dunlop tyres.
Winterbottom continued his merry march at the front, but was hotly pursued by Bright, who was desperate to pick up his first race win in four years. Bright’s strength lay in the first sector of the lap, while Winterbottom was able to withstand the pressure and ease away just fractionally in the second half of the lap.
The final pit stop phase saw Bright leapfrogged by Paul Dumbrell, who then took up the honours of trying to force an error out of Winterbottom. Dumbrell has endured a shaky reputation as being very accident-prone, but he seems to have shaken that with a remarkably consistent 2010 season and took his best-ever V8 finish with second place ahead of bright.
The Paul Morris-run pairing of Russell Ingall and Greg Murphy seem to have got their set-up right this weekend with the pair achieving their best combined result of the season in finishing fourth and fifth in this race. The finishing order perhaps should have been the other way around, but Ingall managed to slip by his team-mate after the New Zealander was momentarily baulked by a backmarker mid-race.
The unusual weather conditions and nature of the Symmons Plains circuit saw none of the top-three championship contenders finish inside the top-ten, and it was James Courtney who finished best of the bunch in 12th despite a largely unimpressive weekend, and being gifted the place by his Jim Beam Racing team-mate Steven Johnson.
The former Jaguar test driver has endured his fair share of bad luck lately, but his momentum has stalled to the point that he has only achieved one podium finish in the last six rounds.
Courtney qualified a poor 21st and moved up to 14th in the opening laps before a safety car interruption. But just before the safety car was brought out, Courtney ran into the back of Lee Holdsworth and earned himself a drive-through penalty that he couldn’t serve until the safety car had peeled back into the pits.
Courtney’s closest championship rival, Jamie Whincup, lost a bunch of places when he had to make another pit stop when it emerged he hadn’t taken on enough fuel, and Lowndes’ retirement is already documented.
Winterbottom’s win sees him move into third place in the championship standings, while Courtney’s points lead over Whincup has actually extended to 50 points. Winterbottom sits 200 points behind in third place, and Lowndes a further 57 adrift. There are just a maximum of 600 points remaining in the final four races of the season.
Race 2 Final Classification (84 laps):