Winterbottom plans to lead to the end after ITM 500 Auckland success

Mark Winterbottom is the new V8 Supercar Championship leader after clocking just the third Ford win in the history of the ITM 500 Auckland, and backing it up with second in the final race of the day.

In front of a massive New Zealand crowd Winterbottom joined only Marcos Ambrose (2004) and Will Davison (2013) as the only Blue Oval V8 Supercar winners in New Zealand, then overtook Craig Lowndes (tenth and sixteenth) by just two points.

Winterbottom pushed the Pepsi Max FPR Crew Falcon though a tough first day where he still managed a solid result and then capitalized on Lowndes' rough patch.

While Winterbottom won the first race the locals were absolutely enthralled by the second of the day when Kiwi hero Scott McLaughlin challenged and beat Jamie Whincup in an amazing opening lap, then another NZ young gun, Shane van Gisbergen, did the same.

The two Kiwis went head-to-head in an epic battle but all the while Winterbottom ranged behind them, getting past McLaughlin and then almost hauling in Van Gisbergen in the closing laps.

Van Gisbergen leads the points in the Jason Richards Trophy (133) from Winterbottom (118) and James Courtney (109). McLaughlin is still in the race on 108 points so far.

Last year's Jason Richards Trophy winner Jason Bright had a nightmare after winning the opening race Friday. He was penalized in his TEAM BOC Holden for contact with Tim Slade's Supercheap Auto Racing Commodore in the opening race and then crashed on lap one in the second.

Sadly for Bright it cruelled any chance of defending the Trophy so cherished by the team.

Winterbottom said leading the Championship at this early part of the year was a positive, refuting often used suggestions that it is not until after the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 is there are true picture.

"I am rapt to get the Championship lead, though everyone always says 'uh, I don't want to lead now' but you want to lead all the way," he said.

"Everyone bullshits about their position and 'I don't want to lead'. So I am rapt to lead, and they've got to chase. We need to keep this momentum going but you can't just get to the lead and then go 'okay we've done it now'. I want to lead from here on and that's the plan."

Winterbottom was angry at himself after driving errors yesterday, but capitalized in the second race of the weekend as he began to assert his authority.

Banking 50 points, he minimized the gap to Lowndes to just 18 points before overtaking him with the subsequent second.

"It is an awesome reward after yesterday," Winterbottom said post-race.

"I am so happy to pay the team back after I forced them to fix the car and didn't get the result we should've.
"It is good to bounce back and get a win. It was a bit lonely out the front but that's the way I always want it. I had a room with a view."

ARMOR ALL pole man Courtney continued his run on the podium in the first race, while Winterbottom's teammate Chaz Mostert made the top three for the first time with his new crew.

"I don't think I've ever been so excited to be in three!" Mostert said. "It has been a tough start to the year and to be up here with Frosty is fantastic… finally got a podium."

In the first race Whincup held off the Kiwis for fourth, with Van Gisbergen and McLaughlin behind, and Nick Percat, David Reynolds, Garth Tander and Fabian Coulthard completing the top 10.

In race two Garth Tander, David Reynolds, Nick Percat, James Moffat, Scott Pye and Lowndes followed Whincup home.

The fourth and final race will unfold tomorrow at the ITM 500 Auckland. The 200km mini marathon begins at 3.25pm local time, with a 20-minute qualifying session earlier at 1pm.

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