V8 Supercars fans will be familiar with Mark ‘Frosty’ Winterbottom, one of the series’ regular frontrunners who is on the cusp of achieving greatness in Australia’s premier touring car championship.
Born in Sydney just thirty years ago, Mark was a talented soccer player as a child and a professional career looked extremely likely until a chance win of a PeeWee motorcycle in a shopping centre raffle set him on the path to motorsport.
Ditching two wheels for four, Mark dominated the Australian karting scene for the next ten years, winning umpteen titles and event competing internationally against the likes of Lewis Hamilton.
In 2002, he made the full-time jump to open-wheel racing, finishing runner-up in the Australian Formula Ford Champion – to no less a driver than former V8 Supercars champion Jamie Whincup – despite having next to no budget with which to seriously compete.
Ford was seriously impressed with his skills, and duly signed Winterbottom on a long-term deal which included an immediate jump to the Konica V8 Supercars Championship, the feeder category for the top-level championship. In his first season of tin-top racing in completely foreign machinery, Winterbottom utterly dominated and cruised to the title.
By the end of the year, he’d made his top-level debut with the ace Stone Brothers Racing squad at the championship’s endurance rounds, and ran a highly impressive third place before retiring.
With no seats available at SBR, he was sent to the cash-strapped Larkham Motorsport team, where he toiled for two years with little in the way of results. It may have been enough to break many a spirit, but Ford Performance Racing – the lead factory outfit for Ford’s presence in V8 Supercars – appointed him to the team in 2006, and he certainly impressed.
In five seasons with FPR, ‘Frosty’ has never finished outside the top-five in the Drivers’ Championship.
In his maiden season with FPR, he enjoyed his maiden podium, race and round wins en route to finishing third in the championship.
Winterbottom can be guaranteed to be among the most consistent performers in the Australian touring car scene, and he has continually matured and developed into an accomplished and highly respected performer, as well as genuinely one of the nicest drivers in the paddock.
In a major coup, Winterbottom was invited to lend his voice to the character ‘Frosty’ in the Australian release of Disney.Pixar’s CARS 2 animated feature film – released today in cinemas across the country – and we had the great pleasure of sitting down with Mark to talk about his role in the movie and his motorsport career.
We extend our enormous thanks to Disney.Pixar for their assistance in making this interview possible.
|Full Name:||Mark Winterbottom|
|Born:||20 May 1981, Sydney (AUS)|
|2001||Ford Kartstars Series, 1st overall|
|2002||Australian Formula Ford Championship, Bordland Racing Spectrum 09 Ford, 2nd overall|
|2003||Konica V8 Supercars Series, Stone Brothers Racing Ford AU Falcon, 5 round victories, 1st overall|
|2004||V8 Supercars Championship, Larkham Motor Sport Ford BA Falcon, 18th overall|
|2005||V8 Supercars Championship, Larkham Motor Sport Ford BA Falcon, 29th overall|
|2006||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing BA Falcon, 1 win, 14 podiums, 3rd overall|
|2007||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing BF Falcon, 2 wins, 7 podiums, 5th overall|
|2008||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing BF Falcon, 7 wins, 19 podiums, 2nd overall|
|2009||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing FG Falcon, 2 wins, 12 podiums, 5th overall|
|2010||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing FG Falcon, 3 wins, 14 podiums, 3rd overall|
|2011||V8 Supercars Championship, Ford Performance Racing FG Falcon, 2 wins, 9 podiums, 3rd overall|
Congratulations on your part in the Australian release of the film. Tell me your thoughts now that you’ve seen the finished product?
I loved CARS 2 and I love the bit that my character played in it. It was exciting to see the end product and my character for the first time. I loved the movie and the new characters, the villains, and the spy elements of the sequel. The villains were great characters as well and very fun to watch.
What did you think of the ‘Frosty’ car and sharing a scene with Lewis Hamilton?
To see the car and have the Australian flag on it and know that you are representing the country in the World Grand Prix was very exciting. I’m a very passionate Australian and to hear my voice with the country’s car was really exciting. And to share the same with Lewis – who is someone I raced against before in karting – and Lightning McQueen, it was pretty cool to be in the same scene as those characters.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks with publicity commitments for CARS 2, while also juggling your V8 Supercars duties as well. Tell us about the last fortnight…
It was good to perform as well and to actually have a good weekend by being amongst the action. To get the in-car coverage and have the CARS 2 logos in the cockpit, it all tied in very well that weekend. It was a good time to perform.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the win on Saturday – I could have got the win – and then on Sunday we were looking good for second place, but then the Safety Car came out. We finished third at the end, and overall, it was good to be back in form. It was well needed and well timed, especially with the movie coming out a few days time. I was up there advertising it quite heavily, and it would have been a bit embarrassing if I got a bad result!
Historically, you’ve always performed well at Darwin. Is it fair to describe this as one of your favourite circuits?
I’ve always gone well in Darwin. I like the event, more so that the track actually. I like the weather, the people, and the feel of the event. As far as the track goes, I actually think it’s more of a coincidence that we’ve gone well there in the past. We did a lot of soul-searching and found some issues with Car #5 and that was all fixed before we got to Darwin, so we landed up going well at that track last weekend.
At Darwin, it was just seven-tenths of a second covering the entire field in qualifying, and the track also changes enormously from day to day. On Saturday we had a bit of oversteer, and on Sunday we had a bit of understeer.
Certainly some good circumstances allowed us to do well, and it came off the back of a qualifying well at Winton the round before. It is a circuit where I drive better than anywhere else, it’s actually Winton.
You were a very talented soccer player as a child. How did you become involved in motorsport?
I played soccer for ten years, and I thought that that’s what I be doing as an adult. I was actually getting paid to play as an 11-year-old by a club in Sydney and I really enjoyed it. Then we won a PeeWee 50cc motorbike in a raffle at a shopping centre, so I took it home and took it for a ride. Once you get the sensation of speed and adrenaline it was a bit more exciting than soccer at the time and I started to race on more weekends than I would play soccer. I fell off the bike a few times and got hurt a few other times, so I decided to sell the bike and buy a go-kart instead.
I started racing them. And it came to the point that on every Sunday I either had to play soccer or I could go racing, silent getting dropping from soccer team because I was never there! It was a pretty easy decision in the end.
For ten years, you were prodigiously successful in karts, winning multiple state and national titles before making the jump to Formula Ford in 2002 where you finished runner-up to Jamie Whincup with five race wins. Can you tell us briefly about that season of open-wheel racing?
It was quite tough that year. I didn’t really have the budget to go racing, and Mike Borland and his team were really supportive. I had Bosch as a sponsor, but we still get less than half the budget of Whincup. I started the season quite slowly as I had driven the car until the first race; the other teams had done plenty of pre-season testing in January and February. I was well underdone going into the season, and then by mid-season stuff to get a lot more comfortable and I actually won the second half of the season. Come into the finale, I actually had contact with another driver and earned myself a 10-point penalty, and that was that. Given our slow start and the budget that we had, we probably shouldn’t have finished as high up the order as we did.
Everyone was really supportive to help you go racing. Sometimes people would buy me a set of tyres because we were on such a shoestring operation, but we were lucky because of the people that we had around us were able to scrape away through.
From there, I was lucky enough to be picked up by Ford, and was faced with the decision of either doing another year of formula Ford to try to win the title, or to jump straight into V8 Supercars. I feel a little bit empty, in a way, that I did stay in Formula Ford for another season with Borland to try to win the title given the amount of effort and support they had provided me. I was lucky to make the step and I did and make the transition at the right time.
The next year, you made the massive jump straight to V8 Supercars in the Konica Series with Stone Brothers Racing, winning the title with five round wins and six pole positions. It’s a huge change in environment to move from a light and nimble open-wheeler to a heavy touring car, and yet you did it with ease. How did you adapt so quickly?
Karting was very natural to me because I done such a young age. You very much drive by feel: you have no power steering, you’re in a seat that scrapes along the ground, and you can really feel what’s going on.
With Formula Ford, you have longer braking markers, the speed is a lot higher, and the corners are much longer. Even though the top speeds are higher, everything feels much slower, and this is especially apparent in the corners. Using braking markers for the first time, changing gears and downshifting, and also having data and a crew to work with to help you make changes to the set-up. Working with a pit crew means you have to gel the team together, and this is even more the case when you into V8 Supercars.
The biggest change in joining V8 Supercars was in not being able to see the front wheels any more. You’re in a sedan with a lot of grunt and not much grip exiting the corners, and that was quite tough.
Each transition was different, but being unable to see your front wheels and learning how to apply the power without spinning the wheels were two of the biggest challenges I faced when I joined V8 Supercars. With formula Ford, a good mid-corner speed gave his lap time but with V8 Supercars it was all about corner entry and exit rather than mid-corner speed.
You drove for two seasons with Larkham Motorsport before joining Ford Performance Racing in 2006, and you achieved your first V8 Supercars podium in New Zealand. You’ve been with FPR ever since, and have achieved multiple wins and finished in the top-five in the championship every year since. Can you tell us about the team environment in FPR and how this has contributed to your success?
Ford Performance Racing was great to go to. I’d had two lean years with Larkham Motor Sport, which was almost a backyard operation with a very small budget. At the time, FPR was a team that showed a lot of potential without the results – as had I – so it was a good fit in many respects. The number-two mechanic on my car was my number-one mechanic in Formula Ford, so I already knew someone in the team.
They were very welcoming and they didn’t judge me. They pretty much said, ‘Here’s the equipment, shows what you can do’, they would let you do the job and form their own opinion after that.
It’s always inspiring to race for the factory team and work with such a great bunch of people. I still have the same chief mechanic since day one, and I’ve grown with the team. We have really great people in the team, and we’ve been able to add more great people to the team. We’ve had great results together, and we have bad results together. We’ve got everything there to deliver a championship, but we just didn’t have the speed at the start of the year. The future of FPR is looking very bright, even if some of our results this year haven’t supported that.
After a few years partnering Steven Richards, you now have a new team-mate in Will Davison, who’s blossomed after a tough previous season with HRT. What’s your relationship like with him and how has he adapted to the Ford stable?
He started well with us, but he’s struggled in the last couple of rounds. He’s very focused and driven on trying to achieve good results after a bad year last year. He’s brought new ideas to the team and new energy to the operation. There’s a healthy competition between us and we push each other along.
I miss having ‘Richo’ at the team. He is a very nice guy and will be great having him back for the endurance rounds later this year.
We talked on the CARS 2 ‘Road Carpet’ about how you’ve had a few challenges this season getting the balance right on the different tyre compounds, but you’ve had three podiums and a hat-trick of pole positions. Talk us through your thoughts on the 2011 season so far, and what your aims are for the remainder of the season?
We are very focused on Bathurst and I’d love to go up there and win that race for our team. I think I can climb back into the top three of the championship. Whincup showed last weekend that he is vulnerable as well, so we will have a little bit of rivalry as the season progresses. I think his teammate Craig Lowndes is pretty determined to beat him, so there could be a little bit of niggle between the two of them. They might say the right PR things, but I think there’s a bit more going on behind the scenes.
HRT don’t have the speed that they look like they could have had at the start of the year. Rick Kelly has lucked into a few results, and I think there are a few guys that are there or thereabouts who we could overtake. There’s still a long way to go in the championship, and last is championship Right down to the season finale at Homebush. We could see the same happen again this year, but whether or not we are in the mix is another matter.
Last weekend showed that a few good or bad results can really change the face of the championship. Look at Jason Bright: he dropped from fourth to tenth with two retirements.
We need a good run from here on in. I think I’ve certainly got the equipment to do the job, but we need to get good results.
It’s a good idea to keep costs down and keep the competition even. As a driver, you always back your ability, and you want to be able to beat anybody with equal equipment. I think that the ‘Car of the Future’ will do that – some are happy about it, some aren’t. I’m looking forward to it, I think this will present an opportunity for other manufacturers to join the series. I think it’s good for the sport.