We look back at a long-forgotten car swap that put Winterbottom back in an SBR Falcon…
WORDS: WILL DALE
IMAGES: AN1 IMAGES (JUSTIN DEELEY, DIRK KLYNSMITH)
WITH Mark Winterbottom enjoying his first laps behind the wheel of a Holden Commodore on Tuesday with Team 18, we’re looking back at one of the rare times he tested a Supercar not built by Tickford Racing in his 13 seasons with the team.
10 years ago, Frosty found himself back behind the wheel of a Stone Brothers Racing machine in a move that also saw Shane van Gisbergen cutting laps for Ford Performance Racing!
The two drivers swapped machines during a pair of test days at Winton and Queensland Raceway in May of 2009.
The swap came at a time when Ford Australia was consolidating its support of its Supercars teams, with 2009 the first season since it trimmed back sponsorship to cover only FPR and SBR, infamously leaving Triple Eight Race Engineering out in the cold and prompting their switch to Holden for 2010.
SBR and FPR were encouraged to work more closely in order to battle the Holden horde and catch up to the Hogster-badged Triple Eight Falcons, and part of that saw a couple of instances where FPR’s contracted drivers hopped behind the wheel of SBR cars – and vice versa – at test days.
“Ford’s official V8 Supercar Championship Series teams, Ford Performance Racing and Stone Brothers Racing, are pooling resources in a bid to create the perfect race car,” read a joint media release from the time.
“The teams plan to combine each other’s advantages and gather data on set-up alternatives.”
The first half of the program came at Winton, with van Gisbergen hopping behind the wheel of one of FPR’s Ford Falcon FG chassis for around 20 laps.
“I was getting pins and needles in my leg with cramp by the end; obviously the other guys aren’t as tall as me!” van Gisbergen said.
“It’s probably a bit different to my car; the brakes were the biggest difference but it was good to get an idea of how the car works. It has a lot of mid-corner grip and you can carry a bit more speed through there and still get out strongly.
“I need to get back to SBR now and work through it with the team; we’ll just talk about a few things amongst ourselves and go from there. I’ve not had any experience developing a car before but it’s good. I’ve only driven the SBR Supercar before so it’s interesting to try something different.
“It’s all about making these cars faster and catching the red pigs.”
Winterbottom completed his end of the swap a couple of days later at Queensland Raceway bydriving van Gisbergen’s regular #9 Falcon FG, his first drive of an SBR car since winning the Super2 title with them in 2003.
“Most of the guys here were there when I ran with the team and helped start my career,” Winterbottom said. “It’s a walk back in time for me but that just makes it easier to drive a different car when it’s a team you already know quite well.”
“You’re obviously used to your own car and how you’ve developed it but the SBR Falcon seems a pretty good car. It’s hard to pinpoint one area, and you’re not comfortable in the car either, but all in all it feels pretty nice straight up.
The teams would again switch drivers later in the year with Steven Richards sampling Alex Davison’s Irwin Tools SBR Falcon at QR ahead in mid-August ahead of that season’s Ipswich event.
“You can feel differences but lots of them can be related to the character of the set-up; like SBR has a very hard brake pedal; FPR doesn’t; SBR has different anti-roll bar settings to FPR, etc,” Richards said.
“Being so open about trade secrets is a bit of an odd feeling; it’s been the same when they’ve come to us though.
“There’s total transparency; we’re poring over all their IP and any questions are always answered. We were able to literally have a really good look at their cars and get an idea of how they operate.”
Fast forward to 2019 and both van Gisbergen and Winterbottom are set to race Triple Eight-built Holdens, the Kiwi for T8’s own Red Bull Holden team and Frosty with the Irwin Tools-backedTeam 18, while Richards is expected to be announced as his Enduro Cup co-driver.
Ironically, Winterbottom’s arrival at Team 18 sees him paired with Phil Keed – his race engineer during the period that included his SBR car swap.