V8 Supercars: Kiwi a contender for V8 title

By Eric Thompson

Kiwi among contenders in close-run battle for V8 Supercars title

Mark Winterbottom has been making inroads on the gap between him and the top two, and says the Phillip Island round will be important.
Mark Winterbottom has been making inroads on the gap between him and the top two, and says the Phillip Island round will be important.

The race for the 2013 V8 Supercars title is shaping up to be one of the hardest fought in years. Heading into the penultimate round of the series, at Phillip Island this weekend, only six points separate leader Craig Lowndes from teammate Jamie Whincup.

And 121 points cover the top four drivers, with Mark Winterbottom in third and his Ford Performance Racing teammate Will Davison in fourth.

With 600 points available at Phillip Island and the last round of the championship on the streets of Homebush in Sydney, it's possible that the best-placed Kiwi driver, Fabian Coulthard, could move into a top three spot.

The Brad Jones Racing pilot is fifth on the table, 308 points behind third-placed Winterbottom, who has been showing great form and has just about demolished the 400-plus advantage Whincup had over him.

Winterbottom and Davison will be the drivers to beat. The pair had a clean sweep of victories at the circuit last year and know a similar result is needed to close the gap on the leading pair.

"This is the business end of the year now so everything we do is critical," said Winterbottom. "Phillip Island's new track surface will make things interesting. Although we've been there many times, we now approach it as being like a new track.

"This is an especially important round, and it's the one that might decide the outcome of the championship as you have to still be in contention coming out of this one.

"The 60/60 Super Sprint format and shorter races have thrown up a lot of variables as we've seen, whereas Homebush is a more straight-forward format.

"There's no doubt Phillip Island is a danger round for everyone."

If you look back through the Phillip Island form-book, Lowndes stands out. He has won eight races there, more than any other active driver and second only to Mark Skaife's nine. Lowndes is also the leading pole-winner with five to his name - a championship record.

His record at the island is better than defending champion Whincup, who has had only two wins - both in 2009 - at the Victorian track.

"I will still need to push hard," Lowndes said on v8supercars.com.au. "Jamie is going to be like a dog without his bone, he is going to be trying to fight for it and once he finds it he generally fights hard for it.

"I am excited. This is a great opportunity and I am really looking forward to the challenge; I just hope we can come out on top. That is what we are aiming to do.

"I am sure it will come down to racing Jamie for the title. That's what it will come down to at Homebush, racing wheel to wheel and door to door.

"There is no doubt this is my best chance in 14 years. The last couple of years we have been chasing Jamie, but hopefully this time we can go to Homebush being chased.

"For me it's a great opportunity because we haven't been able to put ourselves in this position before."

Lowndes won his three titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999. It's been a long time between drinks for the Victorian, but he's been there, or thereabouts, in the past two seasons.

He has been within striking distance of knocking Whincup off his championship perch but has finished second four times at Triple Eight while Whincup has won four times.

Coulthard's teammate Jason Bright marks a milestone this weekend belting up for his 200th Australian Touring Car Championship/V8 Supercars Championship race.

He becomes the ninth driver to achieve the feat, with Russell Ingall, John Bowe, Mark Skaife, Craig Lowndes, Peter Brock, Glenn Seton, Garth Tander and Dick Johnson.

The 60/60 Super Sprint race format returns to Phillip Island for the first time since Nissan's historic win at Winton in August and for the last time in this year's season.

The other two Kiwis in the championship besides Coulthard are Shane van Gisbergen and Scott McLaughlin, seventh and 10th on the points table.

2013 V8 Supercars Championship

1. Craig Lowndes - 2549
2. Jamie Whincup - 2543
3. Mark Winterbottom - 2461
4. Will Davison - 2428
5. Fabian Coulthard - 2153
6. Garth Tander - 2067
7. Shane van Gisbergen - 2052
8. Jason Bright - 1997

- NZ Herald

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