On Track

It's proving to be a big year for Mark Winterbottom as he drives a brand new car and reaches a major milestone in his career. By Liz Swanton

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The man they call ‘Frosty” laughs when asked if he will be the first member of the ‘700 Club’ … but it’s only because has only just joined the ‘600 Club’.

In late April, Mark Winterbottom joined the elite group of drivers who have had more than 600 starts in supercar racing. It’s an extraordinary feat that started back in 2003. His first race in Australia’s premier motorsport category was as a co-drive at the Sandown 500 endurance race. The following year he made his debut in the ‘main game’ as a full-time driver. It’s where he has been ever since.

“To be in sport so competitive and cutthroat for so long is a real achievement. To be competitive for so long is pretty cool actually.

“Craig Lowndes is on a 670-something and Garth Taylor is on 640-something so I have a few more milestones to chase compared to those tallies, but I think I’ll enjoy this one before I start chasing them too hard.

“Technically, yes, it is achievable – if I am still competitive. In this sport, age is just a number. Results are the facts. If I keep getting results, then I stay employed! I want to stay in the game, but the truth is the day you stop getting results you’re out. So my results will determine if I get to chase more milestones.”

Winterbottom says he sometimes struggles to believe it has been 20 years, because so many memories are still very clear. He remembers being so desperate to get into the sport, and then, when that box was ticked, realising he needed to learn how to stay in the game.

“Staying in is hard. There are so many factors, and it is forever changing so you need to be very versatile. Things change every year—tyres, cars, rivals, formats, teammates, engineers, personnel—so you learn to work smarter, rather than harder.

“You understand more what you need to do to keep your body fit and healthy. With the car, you understand what your strengths are and what you need to work on and what you need from the team. You probably do the same lap times as you did 20 years ago; you just achieve it differently.”

For 2023, the challenge has been understanding a completely new car.

Team 18 built two Chevrolet Camaro ZL1s to the new Gen 3 technical regulations, the DEWALT-backed #18 for Winterbottom, and an identical car (with rolling sponsorship) for his teammate, Scott Pye. The car has had mixed reviews from different drivers, but Winterbottom is a fan.

“I think it’s a great car to drive. The only thing that has been an issue, this early into its development, is that racing wise it’s a bit fragile. A small contact in the past would mean a minimal repair whereas a small contact now can mean a major repair. Previously we could do a quick patch-up; now if you have that contact, you might not finish the race.

“But it’s a teething issue—the same with every new model, with every change. I’m hoping once they sort that out, it’s going to be a great car. Everyone in the organisation is working together on sorting out the issues.”

He likes the look and the sound of the car, but he admits they are hard to handle and very physical to drive, which makes it hard to achieve a lap time. That doesn’t faze him.

“They are harder to drive because there’s less aerodynamics. They move around a lot more, don’t have as much grip, they’re a bit lighter and they have a lot more torque. They’re very punchy off the corner so they move around on the way in and throttle-slide on the way out.

“Basically, extracting the speed out of these is a lot tougher, which means it’s more about the driver’s talent and skills. A good car is still going to win but a car that’s not quite there could be dragged up further by a good driver than the previous car.

“Previously, if the car was perfect, you were fast; now if the car is not quite 100 per cent perfect, you can still extract a good lap time out of it.

“Sport is always about pushing your limits and we’ve seen guys crashing these cars who haven’t crashed a car in the last five years, trying to extract a good lap time out of it. It’s tough for the driver but it’s good for the sport and the fans.”

Winterbottom is also enjoying being reunited with DEWALT. The company’s name was on his car when he was racing with Tickford back in 2008, as a minor sponsor. Now it has returned with full naming rights, and he is delighted.

“In our game, you want to use brands that you can align with, that you have credibility with. Some of the fast-food brands have wanted to get involved but I’ve never been interested. I won’t feed it to my kids so I wouldn’t want to promote it. There’s nothing worse than a fake endorsement.”

He laughs when told he sounds ‘right on message’, and says it is no hardship because he is a longtime user. If his fans aren’t using DEWALT tools, he says, they should be!

“I like doing DIY stuff, so I have quite a few in the garage. I actually had them long before I got the signage on the car. I think people have their brands that they like to use, and DEWALT really has always been my brand of choice. The ones I use I have had for a long time, so that’s a very good sign.”