V8 Supercars series leader Mark Winterbottom hopes past form counts for a lot as he attempts to hold off Craig Lowndes for a maiden championship.
The leading pair have landed in New Zealand with the rest of the field for this weekend’s crunch meet at Pukekohe.
What was once a procession is now a rejuvenated title race as Lowndes looks to ride his wave of momentum from the endurance races.
After Winterbottom cruised to a Sandown 500 victory, his lead was a commanding 423 points, bringing predictions he could even be crowned champion in New Zealand, with two race meets remaining.
But Lowndes narrowed the gap by claiming the Bathurst 1000 and on the Gold Coast last round the 41-year-old made major in-roads into Winterbottom’s advantage, stripping 151 points off his lead to reduce it to just 258.
Ford Falcon driver Winterbottom’s fortunes were cruelled in Surfers Paradise by a pit lane bungle, finishing 23rd and 11th.
That shouldn’t trigger a crisis for Winterbottom, who can still take the championship even if Lowndes wins every remaining race, providing his No.5 Falcon finishes no worse than fifth each time.
Winterbottom’s great advantage over the three-time series champion is his form on the Pukekohe circuit, just south of Auckland.
He returns as the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy holder for leading points scorer at the Pukekohe meet last season.
In stark contrast, Lowndes, who leads all-comers for race wins at Perth (14), Ipswich (11), Sandown (9), Phillip Island (9), he has never managed a win at Pukekohe.
“He (Lowndes) has only had two podiums across the last 15 events there,” noted former champion Mark Skaife.
Skaife expects Winterbottom to return to the ascendancy at Pukekohe.
“That style of car, the FGX this year at a host of different race tracks it’s had pace pretty much everywhere,” he told Fox Sports.
“At a big, fast, flowing place like Pukekohe he’ll have to be strong, I reckon he’s the guy to beat in New Zealand.”
The championship leader said he’d be counting on picking up his form where he left off on the 2.91km circuit.
“We’ll get out there and try and rectify a bad round (on the Gold Coast) and race wins are the best way to do that,” he said.
“I love Puke, always love going to New Zealand. It has been pretty kind to me so hopefully it can be kind to me again.”