Winterbottom takes narrow victory at Winton
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WINTERBOTTOM TAKES NARROW WIN AS MOSTERT CRASHES
Prodrive Racing Australia's Mark Winterbottom has won the final race of the NP300 Navara Winton Supersprint, taking the lead of the 2015 V8 Supercar championship as a result.
The Falcon driver had initially been in the shadow of his teammate Chaz Mostert, after the young gun qualified the second Pepsi Max Falcon on pole position for the race, and had won the start. But, a mistake from Mostert on lap 33 saw him spin off the circuit at turn four and crunch the tyre-wall, mounting the fence in the process and prompting the sole safety-car of the race.
With the field all piling into pit-lane to take advantage of the caution, strategy flew out the window as almost every squad topped off their cars and fitted them with the healthiest set of soft tyres for the final 33 laps.
After being one of the few drivers to start the race on soft-tyres, Craig Lowndes regained the lead of the race during this pit-stop cycle - leading out Winterbottom and top Kiwi Fabian Coulthard. With Lowndes on an older set of soft-tyres, Winterbottom and Coulthard hustled the Red Bull pilot until both drivers passed the former series champion on lap 39.
After spending some 15 laps lingering behind Winterbottom, Coulthard made a charge for the lead; closing the margin on the Ford star to less than three tenths of a second and shadowing him for several laps.
But the charge had an adverse impact on Coulthard's tyre condition, and the Freightliner Racing driver faded over the last four laps to give Winterbottom a rousing victory.
"I was struggling [in] those last ten laps," said Winterbottom after the race.
" I tried to save the tyre, but then it came back [to me] which was surprising. I'm so proud of my team. [The crash was] unfortunate for Chaz since he was quicker than I was in that race."
While Winterbottom now leads the championship, the driver - yet to win a championship after 13 years in the series - was hesitant to get ahead of himself; saying "If only it was December!" after being told about his lead in the series.
"We're going to go away and holiday and enjoy our time off, then come back to Darwin and try and repeat what we're doing," he added.
"It's good times at Prodrive at the moment, and it's really good to be involved."
Coulthard appeared disappointed with his second place, despite the result seeing the Kiwi fight his way back to third in the championship chase.
"There was that moment there a few laps from the end - that was my chance. [But] to come through the field like we did, I think we should be leaving here pretty happy," said Coulthard.
With Lowndes finishing third, the battle for fourth was the main talking point in the second half of the race - David Reynolds, Garth Tander, an impressive Scott Pye, and Michael Caruso all taking turns to battle for the position. In the end, Caruso carved a path past all of the others to claim the spot and put a positive full stop on what had been a prosperous race weekend for Nissan Motorsport.
Pye's driving over the course of the race was physical, with the DJR driver clearly confident in himself and his car on his way to posting the best result of his 2015 campaign so far - 6th behind Garth Tander. Tander himself had bounced back well following a disastrous first two races. His teammate James Courtney also managed to finish in the top ten, crossing the line in 8th behind Reynolds. An improved Scott McLaughlin finished 9th, while Jamie Whincup finished 10th after starting the race in an out of character 22nd.
Kiwi's Andre Heimgartner and Shane van Gisbergen had races to forget - finishing 17th and 23rd respectively.
The series now has a one month break befroe moving to Darwin's Hidden Valley circuit for round five of the season.