An emotional Mark Winterbottom has broken through for his maiden V8 Supercars title after more than a decade of attempts.
The Ford driver wrapped up the championship at the season-ending Sydney 500 on Saturday with a podium finish in the second of two sprints.
His earlier fifth-place takes his lead over Holden rival Craig Lowndes to an unassailable 220 points with just one more race to go this year on Sunday.
The 34-year-old couldn’t hold back the tears as he crossed the finish line, with thoughts of his mum June who died in 2011 after a long battle with cancer.
All year, he’s worn a helmet adorned with her photo.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Winterbottom said over the team radio.
“I wish my mum was here; I wish she was here.”
The man affectionately known as ‘Frosty’ has finished inside the top five every year since he joined Prodrive Racing Australia in 2008 but till now had never crowned champion.
His victory also delivers PRA their first ever drivers’ title and Ford’s first since 2010.
“People comment on choking or whatever, but at the end of the day we put No.1 on the door next year and that was my ultimate goal,” he said.
With six-time winner Jamie Whincup out of contention this year, fellow Red Bull Racing driver Lowndes was Winterbottom’s only remaining challenger heading into the season finale.
But disaster struck the ever-smiling veteran, who crashed in the first qualifying session and had to start race one from last on the grid.
He ended up finishing 15th, then seventh in the second sprint.
Lowndes has gone 16 seasons without winning a V8 trophy, his third and last being in 1999.
“(Mark) had a good car today and congratulations to him and the team for winning the drivers’ championship,” he said.
Winterbottom, though, will have to wait until after Sunday’s race to be officially crowned champion and have the No.1 sticker plastered on his Falcon for next season.
“It makes you respect people like Jamie more to win six. The week and the drama is crazy,” he added.
“To win one is fantastic. I’m over the moon.
“When people where those t-shirts that says 2015 champion, it can never be taken off. It’s awesome to be part of V8 Supercars history.”
Whincup, who won both of Saturday’s races, congratulated his fierce rival after what he labelled a great year.
“Plenty of critics have said he won’t do it, that he’s a choker, but credit where credit’s due,” he said.
“I’ll happily hand over the No.1 to him tomorrow afternoon.”
The season closes with a 74-lap race on Sunday.