With Jamie Whincup enduring his worst form slump in nearly a decade, 2015 is surely Ford star Mark Winterbottom’s best chance to end his wait for a V8 Supercars championship.
The 34-year-old heads into this weekend’s Townsville 400 holding a 95-point lead with six-time champion Whincup struggling back in eighth on the standings.
It’s a rosy picture but a new threat is emerging to Winterbottom, and it’s a lot closer to home.
Teammate Chaz Mostert continued his strong mid-season form with an impressive practice showing on Friday at the Reid Park circuit.
While Mercedes’ Will Davison clocked the day’s fastest lap of one minute and 13.0250 seconds, Mostert’s best of 1:13.2527 was easily the best recorded by a driver using the slower hard compound tyre.
It was better than Winterbottom’s 1:13.3770 best, which was achieved on the faster soft compound rubber.
Winterbottom has charged to the top of the leaderboard with four races wins and two seconds in his past nine starts.
But in that same time, Mostert has finished outside the top five just once and picked up two wins of his own to charge into title contention despite a slow start to the year.
It all means tensions could go high within the Prodrive Racing Australia garage as the pair battle together for the ultimate prize.
Not that Mostert is willing to even think about a championship tilt at this stage of the year.
“I don’t like thinking about the big goal,” Mostert said.
“It kind of confuses me. Every time I think about the big goal I spin off the track and go into the tyre wall.
“I’m just going to go for a top five mate and if we get up there in the end, then we do.
“It’s basically the last two or three rounds is where the title comes down … our car’s been the best it’s ever been and Frosty’s probably got the best chance he’s ever had at the title.
“If we’re up there as well, we’re going to be pushing pretty hard as well.”
The Townsville 400 begins on Saturday with qualifying and a 200km race in the afternoon before another 200km race on Sunday.
FLYING FORDS – Mark Winterbottom and Chaz Mostert’s last 10 V8 Supercar race finishes:
Race 6 (Symmons Plains): Mostert 2nd, Winterbottom 5th
Race 7 (Barbagallo): Winterbottom 1st, Mostert 2nd
Race 8 (Barbagallo): Winterbottom 1st, Mostert 4th
Race 9 (Barbagallo): Mostert 4th, Winterbottom 15th
Race 10 (Winton): Mostert 1st, Winterbottom 2nd
Race 11 (Winton): Winterbottom 1st, Mostert 4th
Race 12 (Winton): Winterbottom 1st, Mostert 25th
Race 13 (Darwin): Mostert 1st, Winterbottom 2nd
Race 14 (Darwin): Mostert 3rd, Winterbottom 7th
Race 15 (Darwin): Mostert 2nd, Winterbottom 5th