V8 SUPERCARS: Frosty takes 2015 title with mix of brilliance, discipline
THE working class boy from Sydney’s western ’burbs has finally done it – after 13 years of trying. The sacrifices, the crushing disappointments, the frustrations and the false hopes were all sept away in the delight of Mark Winterbottom landing his first V8 Supercars Championship at the weekend.
A safety-first third place in the second of three races of the Sydney 500 at Homebush on Saturday put Winterbottom, 34, in an unassailable position over Craig Lowndes, his only challenger in the title chase. And, yes, Jamie Whincup, that man who has been part of his motorsport life since he was a kid, won the race that gave Frosty the championship.
Emphasising an intense rivalry that extends back to karting days, Winterbottom, has taken over the #1 from his frequent nemesis.
“It’s awesome boys… I’ve got a few tears under this visor… I’m speechless,” an emotional Winterbottom said as he crossed the line. “I’m so proud of the boys … I wish my mum was here.”
Winterbottom’s mother, June, died of cancer in 2011 but she was with her son during his greatest moments in the sport. His helmet carried an image of her.
Whincup was generous in acknowledging Winterbottom’s right to the crown, as was rival team boss Roland Dane of Triple Eight.
Winterbottom’s gene pool is big on talent – father Jim is a former Australian sprintcar champion. But unlike many of the drivers in V8 Supercars who come from well-to-do families, Frosty’s mob never had spare cash to throw about on pay drives. The kid had to make it on a mix of ability and determination. He also got lucky when the late Howard Marsden, the Ford motorsport boss, used Blue Oval money to put Winterbottom into Formula Ford.
After finishing runner-up to Whincup in the national Formula Ford championship, Winterbottom made his start in V8 Supercars in 2003 when he was conscripted by Stone Brothers for the enduros. Mark Larkham then signed him on full time for 2004 and 2005, after which he began his lengthy and successful relationship with the Ford factory squad, FPR (later Prodrive).
Larkham said he always knew Winterbottom was a potential champion. “It just took a bit longer than then we thought.”
Over the years, Winterbottom proved remarkably consistent in the championship, once the runner-up and third five times in an era when Whincup and Triple Eight were a steamrolling combo. FPR also made errors under pressure.
Even this year there were a few stumbles late in the campaign – the unsafe release during the Gold Coast weekend was a doozy – but even during a late season surge by Lowndes and Triple Eight, the boys in blue held firm. Losing his quick teammate Chaz Mostert to injury after a huge shunt at Bathurst also left Winterbottom down a competitive defender against the Holden hordes.
Adopting a sensible, risk-averse approach, Frosty wrapped it up on Saturday on the narrow, bumpy streets of his home town. It took him 383 race starts in the V8 series to achieve his goal.
He was aided and abetted by a dreadful mistake in race one qualifying by fan favourite Lowndes. While Winterbottom grabbed, Lowndes’ Red Bull Holden slid into the barriers on his quick lap, meaning he would start dead last.
Winterbottom went into the weekend with a comfortable 179-point buffer over Lowndes, who was seeking his first title since 1999. With 300 points available over the weekend’s three races, Winterbottom knew that short of a major catastrophe, the title was his. He also knew that major catastrophes can’t be ruled out at the narrow, unforgiving Homebush street circuit, the scene of chaos and craziness throughout its history.
Indisputably, Winterbottom is a very worthy champion. He won more races than anyone else this season – nine – and was a podium resident 16 times. Along the way too, there were three poles. Two weekends stand out where he rebounded from adversity. At Bathurst, the Falcon was struck with electrical gremlins, and yet he fought back to take second and minimise the points damage to race winner Lowndes. At Pukekohe, he was victim of a chain reaction started by his inexperienced stand-in teammate Cam Waters. He recovered from the spin and drove from last to 11th to snare more crucial points.
Heading to Homebush, where it counted, he stayed calm and disciplined. Methodically, Frosty did what was needed to realise his long-held ambition in front of a legion of Sydney friends and family (and Ford fans).
He nailed it.
There was a third, longer race at Homebush on Sunday, and the mayhem and searing cockpit temperatures surely served as a salient reminder to Winterbottom that he was indeed fortunate have the championship resolved a day earlier.
Pole went to HRT’s James Courtney but the race was still young when Shane van Gisbergen nudged him into the wall, and from that moment, the race became harder work.
Tim Slade’s farewell drive from Walkinshaw Racing could have been better, a jammed throttle brutally sending him into the wall.
Van Gisbergen went on to an impressive win over Whincup, with Nissan’s Rick Kelly giving his long-time sponsor Jack Daniel’s a pleasing farewell podium.
Final championship points: 1. Mark Winterbottom, 3246; 2. Craig Lowndes, 3008; 3. David Reynolds, 2910; 4. Shane Van Gisbergen, 2712; 5. Jamie Whincup, 2647.
INDY 500: Another Brabham to tackle the Brickyard with an Aussie team
HOW good is this? Matthew Brabham, of the family of racing royalty, is set to race in the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500.
The third-generation Brabham is the key to an exciting project created by Australian motorsport personality, Brett “Crusher” Murray, a close family friend.
Murray has also used his strong US ties to secure prominent IndyCar team KV Racing Technology to supply the car and manpower for the 500 campaign. KV Racing, co-owned by Australian Kevin Kalkhoven and ex-racer Jimmy Vasser, won the 2013 Indy 500 with Tony Kanaan.
Racing in the Indianapolis 500 is the third-generation Brabham’s destiny, his dream. His father Geoff raced there 10 times for a best of fourth. Grandfather Jack started the rear-engined revolution at the Brickyard in 1961.
The trans-Pacific connection is strong; Matt was born in the US, raised in Australia and now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Brabham has spent the last four years forging his open-wheel career in the US. He won the USF2000 and Pro Mazda Championships before progressing to Indy Lights.
The Indy entry will be known as Pirtek Team Murray. The plan is that Brabham will compete in the road course race at Indianapolis on May 14 and then the biggie, the 100th running of the Indy 500, on May 29.
Brabham, 21, is poised to be the ninth Australian to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Other than the two other Brabhams, notables include Vern Schuppan, Ryan Briscoe, and Will Power, who was second there last year.
SPEEDWAY: American sedan hero Gene Welch dies
GENE Welch, the American who had a huge influence on the way Australian competitors built their speedway sedan cars, has died at his home in California after a long illness.
Welch was 90.
In the early 1970s, Welch started a new trend here with a more sophisticated, lighter and more agile machine – a Camaro sedan body plonked over a sprintcar-inspired chassis.
Whilst not immediately accepted by the locals, who thought Welch enjoyed an unfair advantage during that 1972-73 season – and there was some joy when Sydney’s Peter Graham beat the glitzy Camaro in a supercharged Mini half the size and a quarter of the cost – change was on the way.
Bruce Maxwell, the colourful former Australian racer, one-time rival and long-time friend of the American, said this week: “Without doubt Gene completely changed the face of speedway and in particular sedan cars in Australia.
“Until he got here with his revolutionary Camaro, we had more bar-work on the outside of our cars than inside.”
The American’s minimalistic approach was quickly adopted by Welch’s local competition, who started to understand that carrying extra kilos was an unnecessary burden.
The crew-cut Welch was a regular tourist to Australia across many summers, when he and later his US Sedan Team raced at tracks including Liverpool, Claremont, Tralee (Canberra), Rowley Park (Adelaide), Bunbury and Newcastle.
In 1974, Welch captained the US team against the Aussies in front of a capacity crowd at Liverpool at a meeting attended by the then prime minister Gough Whitlam.
Welch was never as flamboyant as the likes of countrymen Gary Patterson, Ed Wilbur or Jack Hewitt. But he was a thorough professional and fan favourite.
In January 2015, Welch made one last visit to Australia to celebrate his 90th birthday with good mate Jeff Pickering. A photo taken by speedway historian Tony Loxley shows a remarkable chipper Welch posing with a poster by Mat Burton illustrating all the cars the Californian raced in Australia.
The final word goes, as usual, to Bruce Maxwell: “Gene was always a gentleman. I'll miss him.”
WORLD SUPERBIKES: Australia’s Josh Brookes on 2016 grid
FRESH from winning the British Superbike title, Australia's Josh Brookes will line up in the 2016 instalment of the Superbike World Championship, starting at Victoria’s Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit from February 26-28.
The Sydneysider will take to the world stage in 2016 with the same team (Shaun Muir Racing) and sponsorship (Milwaukee) that saw him dominate in the UK this season, but the hardware will be different as he switches from a Yamaha to the BMW Motorrad S 1000 RR — a bike he hasn't ridden before.
Brookes' team-mate in the two-bike squad will be the Czech Republic's former MotoGP rider, Karel Abraham.
“I’m excited to be back in world superbike and to go there with the same team I won the British superbike title with is perfect,” said Brookes. “I haven’t raced a BMW before, but the bike and factory are proven and I am certain it will be competitive.
“We looked at options from a number of manufacturers, but we felt for world superbikes BMW offered the best bike to cater for the current rules of world championship."
The Milwaukee team will test the BMW for the first time in January in Spain, before heading to Australia for the final pre-season test in mid-February and then its championship debut at a track Brookes knows well.
WRC: Hyundai readies fire-spitting i20 WRC machine
DEVELOPMENT of Hyundai Motorsport’s new-generation i20 WRC challenger is almost completed as the team prepares to unveil the car at an event in Alzenau, Germany on Wednesday.
After more than 8000km of testing on both gravel and tarmac during an intensive 2015 programme across Germany, France, Finland and Spain, the all-new car is almost ready for New Zealander Hayden Paddon, Belgian Thierry Neuville and Spaniard Dani Sordo who will campaign the car next season.
The team has been satisfied with progress and has recently submitted the necessary documentation to the FIA for homologation of the car.
Team principal Michel Nandan said: “We have covered different types of terrain and rally conditions in testing so far, but we haven’t yet run the car on snow, so that’s something we will carry out later this month, both as part of the car development but also as a pre-event test for Rally Sweden.
“These are exciting times for Hyundai Motorsport as we conclude final preparations for the debut of the new-generation i20 WRC in Rallye Monte-Carlo next month.”
This is the final Monday Motorsport Report for 2015. The report will return in February.