MARK Winterbottom was the toast of Mount Panorama yesterday afternoon as he and Steve Richards won a thrilling Bathurst 1000 over defending champions Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell.
The victory broke a five-year drought for Ford, and gave Winterbottom and the Ford Performance Racing Team their first success in the iconic event. For Richards it was his third win, and first since 1999.
Craig Lowndes and Warren Luff finished third to ensure both Red Bull Racing Commodores were on the podium.
“That’s amazing, I’ve been trying so hard. Four years old was my first trip to the mountain and I just wanted to hold that trophy,” a relieved Winterbottom said.
"To finally win it, the battle at the end, the way that we did it and to do it with ‘Richo’ and with FPR, it’s just amazing. I’m speechless almost.
“The reception you get on the podium - that’s ridiculous.
“We've been written off a few times with different things, but what a way to bounce back.”
After the Commodore of Whincup and Dumbrell initially gapped most of the field from pole position, a safety car on lap 29 when David Russell collected a kangaroo - which escaped unharmed somehow - brought the field back together.
It was one of only two safety car periods all day, the other coming 87 laps in when Greg Murphy put his Commodore into a wall at the top of the circuit.
From that point on, the Winterbottom-Richards combination were locked in a duel with Whincup and Dumbrell.
Never more than a few seconds apart, they traded positions through the mandatory seven pit stops while the Holden pair were forced to make an extra stop that ultimately proved decisive.
After his own final stop, Winterbottom emerged from the pits less than a second in front of Whincup, and for the final 20 laps the two cars were virtually bumper to bumper.
The two frontrunners pushed their cars to the limit and sooner or later something had to give.
That moment didn’t come until the last of 161 laps when Whincup tried to surprise Winterbottom down his outside going into Griffins Bend. Momentarily it looked like he had succeeded but Winterbottom barely held him off, both drivers nearly finding the wall.