Ford’s Mark Winterbottom and Holden’s Craig Lowndes will do battle for the 2015 V8 Supercars drivers’ championship at Sydney Olympic Park this weekend.
Winterbottom holds a 179-point lead over Lowndes with 300 points on offer across the three races at the punishing street circuit, so Winterbottom should win his first V8 Supercars championship. If Lowndes wins all three races, all Winterbottom needs to do is finish 14th or higher in the 25-car field.
But form and momentum is with Lowndes, while the sheer number of race-winning Holdens relative to Fords raises the prospect of manufacturer alliance favouring Lowndes in the season finale.
Leading Holden drivers and team bosses declared at the penultimate event at Phillip Island that they would help their Holden compatriot within the sporitng regulations. So when Holden driver Shane Van Gisbergen spun Ford’s David Reynolds out of championship contention, the prospect of Holden ganging up on the Fords seemed real.
Winterbottom fared much better than Reynolds at Phillip Island. He declared Lowndes’ teammate Jamie Whincup’s last-lap dive-bomb a fair move, helping Lowndes claw back some more valuable points.
But V8 Supercars fans, irrespective of brand alliance, want a clean championship battle between Winterbottom and Lowndes, rather than the numerically superior Holdens ganging up on Winterbottom.
Brand allegiance is one thing, but getting too involved in the drivers’ championship battle is another. And while the manufacturers’ championship battle will be awarded to the brand with the most wins and with Holden and Ford locked on 16 wins each, it doesn’t necessitate any unfair treatment towards Winterbottom and Lowndes from their rivals.
The German touring car championship, the DTM, is far more manufacturer-based than V8 Supercars with the 2015 championship marred by Audi boss Doctor Wolfgang Ullrich instructing driver Timo Scheider to “push out” Mercedes-Benz rivals Robert Wickens and Pascal Wehrlein on the final lap of a race in Austria.
We also saw the impact of non-championship contenders getting involved in the title fight in MotoGP, where Marc Marquez took centre stage in the last two rounds and got in the way of the battle between contenders Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez.
Winterbottom has clearly missed having teammate Chaz Mostert alongside him, after the latter was ruled out for the rest of the season following that horrific qualifying crash at the Bathurst 1000. And while at the time it seemed to hand Winterbottom the championship, it led to a form slump for Prodrive Racing Australia with Lowndes’ win at Mount Panorama inspiring a late-season charge.
Lowndes is without a championship win since 1999, when he claimed his third success in as many attempts for the Holden Racing Team. He has finished runner-up in the championship five times since joining his current Triple Eight team, playing second fiddle to Whincup and on the back foot in the championship in the one season he has had the better of his teammate.
Winterbottom has finished runner-up in the championship once with five third places. He and his team have played second fiddle to Whincup and Lowndes over recent seasons and are now well placed to break through in the debut season of the FG X Falcon.
So there’s a lot on the line for both drivers. And a drought of some sorts will be broken by Sunday afternoon. But let’s hope the title fight isn’t marred by manufacturer power plays and it comes down to the efforts of Winterbottom and Lowndes.