The Ford flag flew high at Mount Panorama as Mark Winterbottom finally broke through for his maiden Bathurst 1000 title yesterday.
But with victory in sight it almost brought Winterbottom undone, in a last-minute twist to yet another 161-lap V8 Supercars epic.
Six years after letting victory slip through his hands at Mount Panorama, Winterbottom almost made up for the heartache by closing out a tense six-hour tussle by edging defending champion Jamie Whincup by 0.47 seconds.
Whincup’s fast-finishing Holden teammate – five-time Bathurst champion Craig Lowndes – was third in his 20th Bathurst and 500th race start.
Winterbottom revealed he had one last hurdle to overcome before finally savouring his first Bathurst podium – after 11 years of trying – and his factory-backed Ford Performance Racing (FPR) team’s maiden win on the mountain.
‘‘A bloke ran onto the track near Conrod Straight waving a Ford flag at me, so I had to go around him,’’ Winterbottom said of the surprise awaiting him on the circuit’s fastest section.
‘‘But this is sweet. I have been trying so hard for 10 years [as a driver] and was four years old on my first trip to the mountain.
‘‘I just wanted to hold that trophy at some stage.’’
Winterbottom – partnered by veteran Steve Richards – should not have been surprised there was another late hiccup after holding out Whincup’s desperate last-gasp lunge on turn two of the final lap.
Not much had gone right for the Ford driver on the mountain in the past.
There was his 2007 devastation when he led by 20 seconds with 12 laps left, only to slide off the track in the wet – again with Richards as his co-driver.
And FPR had this year been plagued by faulty wheel nuts, costing them an estimated 200 championships points in placings.
Winterbottom (3rd; 2281pts) now trails series leader Whincup (2423) – partnered by Paul Dumbrell –- by just 142 points.
But Winterbottom held his nerve in the wet giving Ford their 18th overall Bathurst win – 11 behind arch rival Holden.
It marked FPR’s first Bathurst podium since 2004.
But it seemed the stars had aligned for Winterbottom before the race began.
Ford confirmed on Saturday they would remain in V8s next year, ending fears for FPR’s future after the manufacturer announced they would cease production in Australia in 2016.
‘‘Perfect timing with the Ford announcement... so many things have gone right this week – this just caps it off,’’ Winterbottom said. ‘‘We have been kicked a bit but these guys don’t just cop it on the chin.’’
Even four-time Bathurst winner Whincup could not complain with Winterbottom’s win after his risky last-lap lunge failed.
‘‘I would prefer to be in the fence knowing I had a go than just run second,’’ he said. ‘‘This is Bathurst.’’
‘‘[But] I didn’t really lose.
‘‘I got beaten by a class act today.
‘‘I am happy.’’ AAP