Red Bull Racing have pledged to fight Mark Winterbottom right to the finish line in the hunt for the V8 Supercars championship after claiming a drought-breaking one-two result in the Auckland 500.
Jamie Whincup powered away to win Sunday’s 200km race, with teammate Craig Lowndes roaring through the field to be second, but the spotlight was centred on the poor fortune to befall series leader Winterbottom.
Winterbottom’s gap at the top of the championship shrunk for the third-straight meet after a second-lap shunt that sent him to the back of the field.
There was no punishment for the championship-defining moment, but stewards may find James Courtney as the culprit – bashing into Jason Bright to begin a concertina effect with Winterbottom on the end.
While Winterbottom recovered credibly to be 11th, he saw his two title rivals push on for strong results; Lowndes improving from 10th on the grid for his podium, and David Reynolds taking fourth.
Red Bull’s first one-two result since Symmons Plains eight months ago means Winterbottom sits 239 points ahead of second-placed Reynolds and 240 from Lowndes in third.
Lowndes, chasing his first title since 1999, said the championship was not a foregone conclusion with two race meets – and 600 points to fight for – remaining.
“It can easily come apart and it can be a comfortable lead,” he said.
“It’s a comfortable margin but you can’t be too complacent.”
Whincup said he wanted to keep his own good form going through to Phillip Island in a fortnight and the series-ending meet in Sydney.
“We’re going to push as fast as we possibly can and who knows, it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” he said.
“(Winterbottom) needs a disaster now for it not to be a foregone conclusion but we’re going to keep pushing.
Whincup never lost control of Sunday’s 200km race after jumping home track-hero and polesitter Scott McLaughlin off the grid.
The defending champion produced a relentless charge to victory, sealing the Jason Richards Memorial Trophy as the highest pointscorer at Pukekohe, in front of a bumper crowd of 116,554 across the weekend.
Scott Pye won a first-ever podium with third place.
The first New Zealander across the line at their local race was McLaughlin, who finished sixth, with Fabian Coulthard seventh and Shane Van Gisbergen ninth.
V8 SUPERCARS: RACE 30 RESULTS
1. Jamie Whincup (Holden)
2. Craig Lowndes (Holden)
3. Scott Pye (Ford)
4. David Reynolds (Ford)
5. Michael Caruso (Nissan)
V8 SUPERCARS CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS AFTER 30 RACES
1. Mark Winterbottom (Ford) – 2779
2. David Reynolds (Ford) – 2540
3. Craig Lowndes (Holden) – 2539
4. Garth Tander (Holden) – 2297
5. Shane Van Gisbergen (Holden) – 2269