Mark Winterbottom has tightened his grip on the V8 Supercars championship, taking a calculated Sandown 500 victory with co-driver Steve Owen.
The Pepsi Max Crew car No.5 sat patiently behind the leading No.1 car of Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell for more than 100 laps and pounced late in the race, undercutting his rivals in the first of the championship’s endurance events thanks to a calculated pit-lane strategy.
Winterbottom won from teammate Chaz Mostert, who was partnered by Cameron Waters, with Shane Van Gisbergen and Jonathon Webb third.
The race’s decisive move came when Winterbottom swept past the Whincup-Dumbrell car as it exited the pit lane with 43 laps remaining.
The career Ford man revived memories of his last Sandown triumph, achieved as a co-driver to Jason Bright.
“Last time the team and myself won this race was 06 and I was in the garage watching Brighty, cheering him on,” he said.
“It’s an awesome day, a really cool day and good points.”
The result was a bitter one for Whincup, who appeared to be heading for a third-straight Sandown victory when disaster struck.
The Red Bull Racing man had effective control of the race until a tyre puncture from a pit visit meant an unplanned stop – and an eventual 15th placing.
The four-time and reigning champion fell to eighth place in the championship standings, 629 points behind Winterbottom, and is now sure to relinquish his championship.
Prodrive Racing’s one-two finish made more certain one of their garages will receive the title.
With the Falcon FG X’s superior pace, either Winterbottom or Mostert – who sits 198 points behind in second – seem set to take the mantle.
Winterbottom was in no mood to discuss his championship hopes – or those of Whincup – despite his commanding lead.
“I’m just happy we won the race,” he said.
“There’s so much Jamie chat, it goes on all the time.
“There’s no doubt Chaz is the biggest threat to try and take this thing so we’ll be working hard to beat him but working hard to work with him.”
Craig Lowndes moved to fourth overall, behind David Reynolds, after failing to overcome a poor qualifying day and finishing 13th.
The biggest drama of the day spoiled Scott McLaughlin’s race.
Co-driver Alex Premat pitted but a refuelling bungle saw one of his crew leave the spike in the Frenchman’s Volvo.
As Premat took off, his engineer was spun dangerously off his feet, while the Frenchman had to pit twice; once to remove the spike and once for a punishment.