Mark Winterbottom has paid tribute to the instrumental role Ford has played in his career, despite the manufacturer ignoring today’s triumph as it turns its back on V8 Supercars.
Winterbottom sealed a long-awaited first title for himself and Prodrive in Sydney on the final weekend before Ford pulls its last remnants of support for the team.
The manufacturer significantly scaled back its funding this year ahead of the withdrawal, resulting in the team losing its Ford Performance Racing moniker.
Long criticised for a lack of active promotion around its sponsorship, even Prodrive’s stunning form in 2015 has failed to stir any interest from the marque’s management or marketing department.
Although confirming he had not received any well wishes from Ford this week or in the immediate aftermath of his triumph, Winterbottom has stressed his gratitude towards the brand.
Winterbottom’s car racing career was made possible by winning the Ford Kartstars Scholarship program in 2001, which provided major funding towards his Formula Ford campaign the following year.
The now 34-year-old has spent all 13 of his V8 Supercars seasons driving Fords, winning the Development Series title with Stone Brothers, before a two-year spell in the main series with Larkham Motorsport proved the pathway to the factory FPR squad.
“The fans are the big thing, they go and buy their merch and are really passionate about Ford,” Winterbottom said when asked by Speedcafe.com about Ford’s lack of interest in his success.
“There’s a whole stack of them waiting at the car now to just show their support and their link.
“If there’s Ford funding or not, I’m a pretty proud driver of a Ford Falcon.
“They funded me $100,000 to get me into the Formula Ford Championship, so without them I wouldn’t be here racing.
“I’ve only driven one brand. I’m proud of the team and proud of the supporters. I’m glad I did it in a Falcon because it’s been a big part of my career.”
Prodrive co-owner Rusty French told Speedcafe.com there had been likewise no contact between Ford and the team this week, but admitted he was not surprised.
“No, I don’t think they are allowed to talk to us at the moment,” said French, who along with Rod Nash bought the team from Englishman David Richards three years ago today.
“(But) I’d like to think the exit of Ford, the new management would be having a rethink about whether they really would like us to be part of their marketing team.
“We do a good job and I think we could help them sell cars. We would like to get that relationship back together.”
Ford’s cold shoulder towards V8 Supercars comes as the marque prepares to shutdown its local manufacturing, killing off the six-decade old Falcon nameplate.
Winterbottom joins Allan Moffat (1973, ’76 and ’77), Dick Johnson (1981, ’82 and ’84), Glenn Seton (1993 and ’97), John Bowe (1995), Marcos Ambrose (2003 and ’04), Russell Ingall (2005), Jamie Whincup (2008 and ’09) and James Courtney (2010) on the list of Falcon drivers to win the ATCC/V8 Supercars championship.
Prodrive and DJR Team Penske will continue to run their FG X Falcons next season, despite a lack of funding from Ford.