Mark WInterbottom has wound back the clock to take victory in the first race of the Darwin Triple Crown at Hidden Valley Raceway today. In his 606th start, ‘Frosty’ came home for his first podium since 2018 and first victory since 2016, at Pukekohe.
The 42-year-old was forced to work for his victory, however, having to use all his experience to hold off a fierce Broc Feeney challenge over the final stages. The battle for the win ultimately came down to the wire, with the two pulling clear of third-placed Will Davison in the final stages.
It was a fairytale finish to a race which was full of drama, with the field struggling to find a rhythm over the opening stages. Pole-sitter Cam Waters had lead early, but suffered a major fire and was forced to pull off on Lap 4.
Waters had got away well off the line, leading Feeney into Turn 1 with Mark Winterbottom quickly closing the gap. Winterbottom was able to sneak through on the inside for second, while van Gisbergen held his starting position of fourth.
As the pack found its rhythm there were some early incidents, including a spin for James Courtney, a puncture for David Reynolds and damage for Declan Fraser.
It was Lap 4 where the drama really heated up, however, as Waters and Winterbottom were starting to put a gap on the field. It wasn’t to be for the Tickford Mustang, a major fire breaking out under the left-front of the car and seeing Waters scramble to pull off near a marshal.
He was able to safely exit the vehicle, helping to extinguish the fire. Major damage was evident on the Mustang, leaving the Tickford crew plenty of work to do overnight.
An immediate Safety Car was called for, which saw the field all come into box and Winterbottom re-emerge with the lead. Feeney slotted back into second, but a double-stack for Red Bull saw van Gisbergen lose out and drop to sixth, with Davison, Bryce Fullwood and Kostecki moving ahead.
A hectic Lap 11 restart would follow, with contact aplenty throughout the pack. Scott Pye and Jack Smith ran into trouble separately, while Courtney’s and Fraser’s difficult day also continued.
As the halfway point approached, Winterbottom’s lead sat at one second over Feeney with Davison rounding out the top three. Kostecki and Brown were two of the biggest movers, both now comfortably inside the top 10.
A second Safety Car was called for on Lap 16, as a grass fire took hold on the infield where Fraser had run off.
The Lap 19 restart followed a similar theme to the first, with contact taking place throughout the field.
A rhythm finally set in for the second half of the race, as Winterbottom and Feeney put a slight gap over Davison. Fullwood had done well in fourth to hold off Kostecki, who in turn had defended well over van Gisbergen.
It was Lap 31 when the championship leader was finally able to move to fourth, bringing van Gisbergen onto the bumper of Fullwood. The ‘Prince of Darwin’ held off a spirited challenge from the defending champion for a hard-fought fifth, leaving van Gisbergen as the best of the Kiwis in sixth, ahead of Brown.
It ultimately came down to the wire between Winterbottom and Feeney, the Red Bull driver doing everything in his power to try and take the win. Winterbottom used all his experience to come home first to the flag, with Feeney and Davison rounding out the podium.
Heimgartner came home in 16th, while Payne was 20th after being run off track towards the closing stages.
Supercars returns for two further races tomorrow.
Header Image: Team 18