Winterbottom showing the Mark of a champion

DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 15/06/2014
Mark Winterbottom
Getty Images
HAPPY MAN: V8 Supercars leader Mark 'Frosty' Winterbottom.

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Mark Winterbottom will go into next weekend's round of the V8 Supercars in Darwin sitting atop the points table and optimistic about increasing his lead.

The reason why the Ford Performance Racing driver is feeling so good about the trip to the Northern Territory is because he's been the best at tyre management this year, something that's a crucial factor around the 2.9km circuit.

"It's really tough on tyres because of the air temperature and track surface," Winterbottom told theSunday Star-Times.

"So tyre life is massive there but it's a track that seems to suit our cars for some reason and fingers crossed that this continues."

Organisers have placed restrictions on how many sets of tyres each car can use in Darwin and while Winterbottom doesn't agree with this, he feels he'll be a benefactor of their ruling.

"They've messed up the Darwin format a bit with the tyre allocation with two sets of hard tyres and two sets of softs and we've got to use the hard tyres three times and that's going to make tyre life even more important than ever," he said.

"We shouldn't be forced to run the tyres as many times as we are, but the rules have said we'll have to reuse a set, which makes tyre life even more important.

"We're confident we've got the tyre life right going to Darwin, but other teams will definitely be worried, because once the tyres go off there you lose seconds a lap and it's a massive drop off, let alone using a tyre that's already degraded at the start. You could be four or five seconds off the pace quite easily."

Winterbottom has 1199 championship points after five rounds, which puts him 101 ahead of the second-placed Craig Lowndes.

The 33-year-old hasn't finished outside the top five at the end of season for the past eight years, but the title continues to elude him.

However, he realises this is his greatest opportunity yet to end the Triple Eight domination.

"I know that I've put myself in the best position possible and this is the best chance I've had of winning it," he said.

"I'm trying to make the other guys catch up and it's going to be hard to keep them out because it's such a long season and tough category.

"I'm trying to just stay there and the more rounds I can do that, the harder it will be for them to catch me. I'd rather lead than chase and I'm using that as a strength and, hopefully, I'll keep getting results."

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There is a five-week gap in the schedule between the last round in Perth and the upcoming one in Darwin, which means attention slips away from the series.

"It's too long to sit around," Winterbottom said. "When you're on a roll you want to keep racing and there's no doubt that a five-week gap allows team to catch you.

"It's disappointing to have it, although the crew need it but selfishly you want to keep going."

There will be plenty of attention on the New Zealand drivers Scott McLaughlin and Shane van Gisbergen after they clashed in Perth. McLaughlin was unhappy that van Gisbergen wouldn't allow him to pass him in one of the races and then gave him the bird.

After the race, McLaughlin branded van Gisbergen an "arsehole" and said he believed there was a code between New Zealand drivers not to take each other out.

Garry Rogers, who McLaughlin drives for, feels there is a rivalry between the two drivers now but Winterbottom says that isn't a bad thing.

"You've got to have rivalries," he said.

"Fans have rivalries because they passionately buy their blue or red flag.

"There has to be rivalry and I can tell you that I don't expect anyone to let me pass them or show me friendship on the track.

"You want respect but you don't want someone to pull over. I wouldn't do that for anyone and when you're on the track it has to be an absolute battlefield, so expecting people to move over is unrealistic.

"But sport is built on rivalries and they have to be there."

- Sunday Star Times

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