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The white Commodore VXR in the driveway is the first giveaway. Later, the relaxed demeanour seals it. This is the new Mark Winterbottom. Different team, different car, different attitude.
Just as a Holden has never before darkened his front door, neither has Winterbottom gone out on such a limb. After 13 years flying the Ford flag in the comfort of a Blue Oval bastion team, Frosty is on his own.
Not only is he out of his comfort zone, he’s teamed up with outlying team owner Schwerkolt. Yep, the bloke whose appearances on Supercars telecasts are inverse to his achievements on the track.
The Commodore sits in the carport of Frosty’s holiday home on Lake Yarrawonga on the Victorian/NSW border. He’s there over the Christmas/New Year break with his family, relaxing on the water in his speedboat.
Talking about the upcoming season, he is enthusiastic but considered, confident but realistic. He believes his experience and Schwerkolt’s commitment will transform Team 18. Dismissed as a glory hound, Schwerkolt has manned up to save his squad – and Winterbottom’s career. Thrown together by circumstance, the unlikely alliance may be their salvation.
Frosty is the star driver Charlie has craved since his spectacular title-winning fallout with Dick Johnson. He almost orchestrated James Courtney’s defection to a Pepsi-backed, Ford Performance Racing-run Falcon in 2011 – only to be gazumped by a $1 million-a-year deal with the Holden Racing Team.
After two miserable years with Tickford – a humiliating fall from a decade of success that peaked with victory in the Bathurst 1000 in 2013 and the Supercars championship in 2015 – Winterbottom was ready for a big change. But only if the right people, backing and technical resources were delivered.
Although 37, Winterbottom is far from past it and, with the right package, was confident he could still be a front-runner. Schwerkolt delivered what he wanted. A guru race engineer. Tick. A Triple Eight ZB Commodore with full technical backing. Tick. Big-name sponsors. Tick. Suddenly, Frosty’s gambit looked calculated rather than desperate.
Phil Keed joins as chief propeller head, Steve Henderson has been promoted from success in the Dunlop Super2 Series to replace ex-Holden Racing Team leader Jeff Grech as team manager, a proper team commercial structure has been installed and a high-powered line-up of sponsors attracted – Irwin Tools, ActronAir, Orrcon Steel and more.
Frosty likes the fact that Schwerkolt put his hand deep in his pocket and funded the make-or-break step up. He also likes that it’s a tight-knit team dedicated to him, operating out of the familial environment at the headquarters of Schwerkolt’s forklift empire in Mount Waverley in Melbourne’s south-east.
It has all the makings of an Erebus-style outsider success – or a costly disaster. But if Winterbottom’s savvy selections translate into speed, he could reignite his career and make Schwerkolt famous.
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