Winterbottom feeling pressure to turn the tide in Townsville

Mark Winterbottom (middle) with engineer Manuel Sanchez (right)

Mark Winterbottom is embracing the challenge of returning to the Reid Park Street Circuit less than a week after one of the worst qualifying events of his decorated career.

While he’s not reached the sorts of his heights he hit at Tickford Racing – namely winning the Bathurst 1000 and championship – since switching to Team 18 for the 2019 season, he has continued to be exceptionally consistent in one-lap speed.

Qualifying 21st for both legs of the Townsville 500 last weekend thus came as a rude shock to the 40-year-old.

The man known as ‘Frosty’ was at least able to move forward over the course of the two 250km races to take slightly more respectable finishes of 10th and 16th.

“We’ve had to work hard this week to get the car back to where we need it to be,” Winterbottom said.

“I’m really excited to get back on track, normally we have to wait 12 months to come back and redeem a tough weekend, but we’ve only had to wait five days to go again here in Townsville.”

He believes the switch to three 110km races for this weekend’s WD-40 Townsville SuperSprint will actually open up more strategic options than last weekend’s 500.

“Although the SuperSprint format is a shorter race weekend, it allows for more strategy to take place,” continued the driver of the #18 Irwin Commodore.

“It seems odd on the surface, but with the way the fuel numbers work out and the tyre allocation, the longer races tend to make the strategy more conservative.

“We weren’t good enough last weekend, the pressure is on to turn it around but I know I’ve got the team behind me to do it, so hopefully we have a quick car that should put us somewhere in the mix again.”

Winterbottom is still chasing his first Team 18 podium

Having opened the season with top five finishes in each of the first three races, results have dried up, sending Winterbottom spiralling to seventh in the drivers’ championship.

It’s been an even tougher run for team-mate Scott Pye, who found trouble in both races last weekend, finishing multiple laps off the pace in each.

Pye in fact is yet to take the chequered flag positioned better than eighth this season.

“We have three races this weekend, 39 laps in each and short qualifying sessions so a much shorter, sharper weekend to what we just had,” said Pye.

“Qualifying is going to be more important than ever, so we need to put in a lot of focus in that so we’re in a good spot for the start of these races.”

An adjusted track schedule sees tomorrow’s Repco Supercars Championship action begin with a single 45-minute practice session beginning at 11:35 local time/AEST.

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