Mark Winterbottom and Steven Richards won the Bathurst 1000 on Sunday by less than half a second from defending champions Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell, giving the troubled Ford factory team its first win in Australia’s leading touring car race.
Winterbottom held his nerve over the final laps of the Mount Panorama circuit to beat Whincup, in a Holden Commodore, by 0.47 seconds, claiming his first win in 10 starts in the endurance race and giving Richards his third Bathurst title.
Whincup, who won last year’s 50th edition by 0.31 seconds, drew alongside Winterbottom’s Ford Falcon a few corners from home but a momentary loss of traction allowed Winterbottom to draw clear and claim the checkered flag.
Craig Lowndes, also in a Holden, marked his 500th career start with third place.
The win for the Ford Performance Racing team came only a day after Ford confirmed they would support the team again next year, despite announcing in May they will cease production in Australia and will retire the Falcon by 2016.
Winterbottom broke both the FPR team’s and his own personal drought at Bathurst. He led the 2007 race 10 laps from home before sliding off the track in what he called “one of the lows of my professional career.”
Ford Performance Racing also ended a long run of bad luck in the 1000 kilometer race. Despite starting on the front row of the grid in six of the last seven editions of the race, including three pole positions, the team last achieved a podium finish in 2004.
Whincup and Dumbrell started from pole position and led for much of the race. But when Whincup pitted for the seventh time on lap 117 — with 44 laps to go — Winterbottom was able to seize the lead.
Winterbottom pitted while leading after 139 laps and was able to emerge from pit lane still in front of Whincup, though less than a second separated the pair through the closing laps.
Five-time champion Lowndes, with co-driver Warren Luff, posted the fastest lap of the race on lap 145 to make his claim for a podium finish. But Garth Tander went faster two laps later, setting up a thrilling contest for third place.
Every car had to make a mandatory seven pit stops to cater for the fuel economy issues of the new Nissan and Mercedes entrants. That caused the lead to change hands several times, with Swedish driver Mattias Ekstrom briefly leading in his Holden Commodore late in the race.
The safety car was called on only twice: after 20 laps when Todd Kelly’s Nissan hit a kangaroo at the top of the circuit and on lap 86 when Greg Murphy hit the wall in his Holden Racing Team Commodore. Murphy, who set the fastest-ever lap at Mount Panorama exactly 10 years ago, was taken to the circuit’s medical center but was uninjured.