Ford Performance Racing's Mark Winterbottom has had pole position at one of V8 Supercar's big endurance races before but, by his own admission, it's time to convert the opportunity at this weekend's L&H 500 at Phillip Island.
With the event naming rights sponsor L&H also a backer of FPR, Winterbottom - along with team-mate Steven Richards - has a point to prove in the long distance co-driver events. The pairing started well this weekend, with Winterbottom claiming pole and victory in race two and their combined points for the two qualifying sprints putting them on the front of the grid ahead of TeamVodafone favourites Craig Lowndes and Jamie Whincup and Championship contenders Will Davison and Garth Tander.
“Traditionally, I don't really do that well on Sunday [at the endurance races] – I don't think I've had a podium yet,” Winterbottom admitted, referring to a haul of front row starts with no result, “It's a long way in this race, and it's nicer to have cleaner air from the start. We've done well so far and come good at the right part of the year, now it's time to stand up.”
The two qualifying races produced fairly predictable results, aside from the great performance of Fabian Coulthard to put himself and Wilson Security Racing co-driver Michael Patrizi up at the front. Jim Beam Racing's James Courtney and Steven Johnson, in fifth, are also there, as are the Kelly brothers, Rick and Todd, in the Jack Daniel's Commodore, despite the former suffering a broken tailpipe in the second race when pole position beckoned.
Tander and Davison also loom large again as they seek two quests - winning the race and continuing their championship hunt.
“We look forward to tomorrow,” Tander said, “We started tenth here last year and won the race, so it's going to be a lot easier starting from third.”
The first race start saw a near crisis on the grid when Jim Beam Racing's Johnson stalled on fourth spot with almost the entire field behind him. The heart-stopping few seconds was reminiscent of Tander doing the same thing at Bathurst last year, but somehow the pack missed him on the way through, despite throwing some chaos into the start of the first race.
In that time, Todd Kelly got a jump on everyone with a very quick start, as Will Davison scooted into second. Kelly subsequently held off a charging Lowndes in the closing laps as what appeared to be the best two cars on the track duelled for supremacy. It set both cars up for the second race to follow.
As if an instant replay, another car stalled on the grid in the second race, this time Team BOC's Jason Richards, but once more the skills of those behind avoided any incidents.
Like Kelly before him, Winterbottom seized early control of the race before a safety car bunched the field once again. Although Coulthard pressed Winterbottom, there was no way through and the top two remained unchanged to the flag.