Few V8 Supercars rounds are more important to Ford’s Mark Winterbottom than Sydney Motorsport Park – this season, especially.
Apart from it being his home track, it’s the last event before the three-race endurance series and a chance to consolidate his 256-point championship lead over Holden rival Craig Lowndes.
He’s already achieved a personal best in 2015 with eight wins.
His previous mark was seven in 2008 – the same year he scored his first and last victory at Eastern Creek, not far from where he grew up in Doonside.
“It’s a track that hasn’t really been kind to me,” the Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) star told AAP.
“We’ve had podiums and we’ve had shockers, so it’s been hit and miss.
“But when you’ve got a good car, you go in confident; you don’t really look at history too much.
“It’s an important round for me and I think our car’s going to be really strong. I can’t wait.”
This season is shaping as the 2013 Bathurst winner’s best shot at the winning his first V8s title after a decade of attempts.
The man who’s dominated the past five years, Holden’s Jamie Whincup, is languishing in seventh on the driver’s standings and 480 points behind.
Fourteen races have passed without the record six-time champion winning a race – a streak not seen since 2007 before he won his first title.
His teammate Lowndes, though, appears to be Winterbottom’s biggest threat, having defied Red Bull Racing’s apparent woes to remain a consistent challenge up front.
Fellow PRA drivers Chaz Mostert and David Reynolds are also in contention, sitting third and fourth in the championship race.
Five-time champion now commentator Mark Skaife declared earlier this month that if Winterbottom doesn’t win this year, he never will.
But not the kind of talk the 31-year-old wants to hear.
“He says that every year, I try not to listen to what he says too much,” he said.
“I’m not really feeling the pressure, I’m actually enjoying it because when you’ve got a good car and you’re getting results, it’s a lot more enjoyable than scratching your head.
“But I’m not going to give up until a win one.”
Winterbottom labelled SMSP was a “strange place”, given the variability in temperature across the weekend.
“It’s really temperamental and probably one of the most difficult places to get right,” he said.
“You could win one race and be 10th or 15th the next, it’s just one of those places. So keep an eye on everyone.”
Opening practice begins at 10.10am on Friday.
FAST FACTS ABOUT SYDNEY MOTORSPORT PARK
* This year marks 25 years since SMSP, originally known as Eastern Creek International Raceway, opened, and the 20th time its hosted a touring car championship round.
* Nine different drivers have won the last 10 races there – all bar one (Mark Skaife) will be competing this weekend.
* Holden is just one away from becoming the first manufacturer to score 300 pole positions in Australian touring car/V8 Supercars championship history.
* Just three of the last 13 races at the track have been won by polesitters.