Winterbottom seals title that had eluded him
After battling for ten years Mark Winterbottom has claimed clinched the V8 crown.
Nothing has ever come easily to Mark Winterbottom, so it’s hardly surprising that winning his first V8 Supercars championship was as tortuous as it was triumphant.
In a season during which Winterbottom went from dominant to hunted, the only easy day in the closing stages of his title quest was the one that mattered.
He clinched the V8 crown on Saturday by surviving the first two legs of the three- race Sydney 500, avoiding trouble – unlike title rival Craig Lowndes – on the mean streets of Sydney Olympic Park to secure an unbeatable points lead.
No.1 at last: Mark Winterbottom celebrates the title. Photo: Mark Horsburgh
Winterbottom was at his cool and calculating best, finishing fifth and then third in each 37-lap, 125-kilometre race in his first trouble-free race day since September.
He struggled through October’s Bathurst 1000 and Gold Coast 600 and last month’s Auckland and Phillip Island events, salvaging enough points from adversity to arrive at the title-deciding Sydney 500 with a reduced, but still decisive advantage over Lowndes.
The evergreen V8 veteran’s slim chance to overhaul Winterbottom effectively disappeared when he crashed in qualifying for Saturday’s first race, relegating him to last place on the grid. With Lowndes’ challenge all but neutralised, Winterbottom surgically secured the results he needed to claim a title-winning 220 points lead going into Sunday’s 250-kilometre season finale.
That will amount to 74 victory laps for the man known as “Frosty”, who can finally relax and enjoy celebrating his success in his Prodrive Racing Ford Falcon after a long and tense wait.
Winterbottom, 34, has battled for 10 years to claim the V8 Supercars crown – on top of the struggle it required to established himself as a leading professional racing driver.
While not all top drivers come from wealthy families, most come from comfortable upper middle-class backgrounds and rely on family funding to show their talent in karting and junior car racing.
Far from a privileged upbringing, Winterbottom’s childhood and adolescence were hard years growing up in modest surroundings at Doonside in Sydney’s far west.
His late mother June, who died of cancer in 2011, raised him almost single-handedly on limited finances. ‘Frosty’ is estranged from his father Jim Winterbottom, but as a two-time Sprintcar speedway champion, Jim clearly had an influence on his son’s career choice and helped with his development in the early years.
Winterbottom, who moved to Melbourne when he joined the then Ford Performance Racing team in 2006 and now lives in the inner north-west suburbs, dedicated his championship triumph to his mother, who supported his junior racing despite their financial hardship.
The Ford loyalist, who has only raced a Falcon in V8 Supercars, is proud to have risen from humble beginnings to achieve the defining feat of his career, especially as his coronation as 2016’s king of V8 racing is happening just 15 minutes from where he grew up.
“I never had anything handed to me,” Winterbottom told Fairfax Media in the lead-up to the Sydney 500. “Everything was a struggle to get there. Everything’s a battle and nothing’s ever been handed out, and you’ve had to work for everything. I was lucky, I had parents who sacrificed everything to back me – mortgages on the house, a lot of financial hardship. I’m not playing the violin, but while we lived a good life in terms of love and everything like that, financially it was pretty shit.
“So you battled through and to get somewhere is really satisfying. Even just having a career in the sport is an achievement, but to get a championship would repay years and years of hard work by everyone who helped me.”