Ford star Mark Winterbottom’s red-hot V8 Supercars form continued with victory in the opening race of the Townsville 400 on Saturday.
The Prodrive Racing Australia (PRA) man almost doubled his championship lead after holding off teammate David Reynolds to secure his fifth win of the year.
Winterbottom now holds a 167-point championship lead over Holden’s Fabian Coulthard, who came home third on Saturday to leapfrog Red Bull Racing’s Craig Lowndes in the standings.
The victory is PRA’s eighth as a team from 16 races in 2015.
Winterbottom took control early as he passed another teammate, pole-sitter Chaz Mostert, by the first corner.
The 34-year-old then drove for more than half of the 70-lap race on one set of soft tyres to sneak home ahead of Reynolds by 0.2706 seconds.
Reynolds, whose future remains uncertain beyond this year, admitted he hadn’t pushed as hard as he might have for the win given Winterbottom’s championship situation.
“I probably should’ve taken more of a risk but to come home one-two is perfect for the team,” Reynolds said.
“Mark’s leading the championship and I’m trying to help the team out wherever I can.”
Lowndes’s 14th-place finish forced the three-time champion back to third on the standings behind Coulthard.
Defending champion Jamie Whincup finished ninth to break a three-race run outside the top 10 but the Holden star never really featured in the contest.
After seeing a similar lead at this time last year disappear, Winterbottom is refusing to get too carried away about his current championship situation.
“That top seven or eight is really good,” Winterbottom said.
“We saw last year, we had a 200-point lead at this point and we lost by 400 points, we had a 600-point turnaround in six months.
“Anyone can win. Bathurst, Sandown – those big races are where you can lose some points. Even today you can lose a lot of points because there’s just the one race not two.
“You’re not counting your chickens yet for sure.”
Winterbottom will get a chance to extend his lead further when the Townsville 400 wraps up with another 200km race on Sunday.