Mark Winterbottom has labelled the start of the 2017 Virgin Australia Supercars Championship as one of the most crucial ever as teams battle to master the new specification Dunlop tyres.
Dunlop has introduced a new construction of tyre this season along with an all new super-soft compound designed to spice up the racing.
The modifications will provide a new variable for teams to acclimatise to prompting the championship to organise a bespoke tyre test at Sydney Motorsport Park on February 21 ahead of the Clipsal 500 season opener.
Winterbottom believes the new tyres will play a significant role in the championship with teams who adapt quickly to the rubber set for a huge advantage.
“I think it (the new tyres) makes the start of the season one of the most important ever,” Winterbottom told Speedcafe.com.
“It is like when we introduced Car of the Future in 2013.
“The tyres are the big thing because it is completely different set up.
“If you you start the season competitive you will get five rounds free of charge almost because it is not like you can start making uprights in that period before the big gap comes when people start testing.
“We need to make sure we roll out well at Adelaide.”
While the Sydney test will allow teams an opportunity to test the new rubber, Winterbottom says it will be difficult to fully understand the new tyre with teams required to carefully manage their supply for the season.
“We will have to see what that tyre has got but it is hard because you don’t have any tyre banks,” he added.
“It is not like you can roll out on used (tyres) and then put greens on.
“You have to manage those tyres for the year. It is a weird way to go testing. You have to manage them and not use them in one go.”
After a disappointing end to last season, Prodrive has undergone restructure of its engineering department during the off-season with Winterbottom now set to team up with the experienced Brendan Hogan.
Hogan has moved to the #5 having spent last season engineering the Monster Energy backed Falcon piloted by Cameron Waters.
The 2015 champion expects the transition will be relatively seamless following two seasons working alongside Jason Gray.
“He (Brendan) suits my personality quite well and I have got a bit more experience than Cam had, so I think we will work quite well together,” he added.
“It has been fun already and I have chatted to him quite a bit already.”
The new Supercars season kicks-off at the Clipsal 500 from March 2-5.