Ford Performance Racing (FPR) has finished its long trip north to Darwin on a high with Mark Winterbottom claiming a podium and adding another pole position to his Saturday effort in a strong return to form for the factory Ford team in the Top End.
Winterbottom secured the final spot on the podium with a measured drive to third while his second pole in as many days means he has now landed the top spot in qualifying in the last three races.
Team-mate Will Davison was unlucky not to join Winterbottom on the front row as despite qualifying sixth he was a mere 0.14s from top spot in the closest session of the season where just 0.7s covered the entire 28 car field.
Fellow FPR driver Paul Dumbrell was less-than 0.5s from Winterbottom but was only 19th on the grid due to the close nature of the session.
Winterbottom made another good start and slotted in behind Lee Holdsworth who started the race on the softer compound Dunlop tyre.
The #5 Orrcon Steel FPR Falcon pilot remained in the top-three as the fastest car on the hard compound tyre in the opening sector of the race.
Davison made a similarly rapid start and was briefly fourth before settling in behind Winterbottom in the top five, while Dumbrell made good ground though a safety car on lap 12 changed the complexion of the race.
Winterbottom pitted along with the majority of the field and took two rear tyres only and rejoined seventh while his team-mates remained on track and cycled through to first and second.
At the restart a few laps later the FPR duo gained a good gap over their rivals before their older tyres meant they dropped a few spots before their pit stops. However, the timing of their first stops meant their final two stints of the race would give them a pace advantage.
Dumbrell and Davison stopped a lap apart and despite being out of sequence with their rivals and dropping to near the rear of the field, the pair used the obvious pace of their factory Falcons to charge back through the pack in a brilliant middle sector of the race.
During this time Winterbottom had moved back to the podium places after his pit stop and gained the lead before he made his second and final stop on lap 46 of the 69-lap race where he fitted the sole set of soft tyres provided to all teams for the race.
He pitted from first and rejoined sixth but using the extra grip of the soft tyre was soon back in the top-three.
Davison stopped on lap 52 to take his soft tyres and his efforts prior to his final stop saw him drive to second on the road. He rejoined 19th and hoped a late-race safety car would allow him to take advantage of his different strategy.
Dumbrell had made similar gains in the #55 The Bottle-O FPR Falcon and pitted from seventh several laps later, coming out immediately behind his Trading Post-backed team-mate in 20th.
The safety car they both craved was then deployed due to a stricken car and the entire field bunched up.
A seven-lap dash then ensued on the restart and while Winterbottom was safe in third, his two FPR stablemates used their fresh soft tyres to good advantage and carved their way through the pack.
Davison passed five cars in two laps at one point and would go on to finish seventh - just 5.5s from the podium after being nearly two to three seconds a lap faster than his rivals in the closing laps.
Dumbrell was less lucky with traffic though still climbed to 11th after starting 19th.
Winterbottom secured a well-deserved podium and after two pole positions and three very quick cars the team is confident it will be one of the front-runners at the next event in Townsville in early July.
Mark Winterbottom – #5 Orrcon Steel FPR Falcon
Qualifying: 1st - 1m09.79s
Race 13: 3rd - Fastest lap: 1m09.82s
Championship position: 9th - 961 points
"It was good to get back-to-back poles and it shows just how dominant we have been here. They were also a big confidence booster for the team. The race went ok and our hard tyre pace was pretty good and then when we put the soft tyres on it was the right time. Our pace was much better on them than it has been in recent races and though we still have a bit of work to do, the improvement is just reward for the team which has worked so hard since the last event. Overall it was a pretty good weekend and a podium isn't a bad result. We have now claimed the last three pole positions, we won in Townsville last year and we should make more gains at our test day next week and hopefully start winning races."
Will Davison – #6 Trading Post FPR Falcon
Qualifying: 6th - 1m09.93s
Race 13: 7th - Fastest lap: 1m10.52s
Championship position: 6th - 1020 points
"All in all it was a cleaner day. Unfortunately the strategy worked against me to an extent, but then it actually allowed me to get back to the front late in the race so we can be pleased the car worked much better today. There was nothing in qualifying and we could have been on the front row given we only need a fraction of a second, so that was encouraging. I made a great start and I was able to run with the lead cars on the hard tyres early. During the safety car we decided not to pit and gained the lead in hope we'd get a late safety car. Our pace was really good on the hards the whole race and we were also quick when we made the late change to softs. It would have been nice to be higher up but we still charged through to seventh and had we had a few more laps we would have picked a few more off. The key thing is the car was much better today than it was yesterday so we are making progress and scoring a good haul of points again."
Paul Dumbrell – #55 The Bottle-O FPR Falcon
Qualifying: 19th - 1m10.20s
Race 13: 11th - Fastest lap: 1m09.92s
Championship position: 19th - 616 points
"Qualifying was disappointing as I missed a gear on my quick lap and it cost us 10 spots. We improved the car a lot which was positive and all FPR cars were quite strong. We kept ourselves out of trouble early in the race and we ran second after the first safety car when we chose not to pit. Then we wanted a late safety car which we got, but then in the mid-pack there were lots of cars really close together so I was losing big chunks of time but we went basically from last through to 11th so it wasn't exactly a bad result, it just would have been nice to be further to the front. We have ticked a few boxes here this weekend and I would like to think we can continue the momentum we've built here this weekend."
Tim Edwards - FPR Team Principal:
"It was nice for the team to finally taste some champagne after all the hard work they've put in over the last few weeks. Mark again showed his dominance with a second pole position in two days and although we didn't quite get the win he deserved, the entire team put in a really strong performance which would have been even better had we not had the two safety car periods. Will drove arguably the best he has since joining the team and was easily the fastest car on hard tyres in the middle part of the race. A great effort and seventh could easily have been a podium had luck fallen his way. Paul also recovered well after yesterday's dramas, so overall we have made big gains here and want to continue the momentum in Townsville."
2011 V8 SUPERCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
RACE 13 - RESULTS:
1) Shane van Gisbergen - Stone Brothers Racing
2) Craig Lowndes - Triple Eight
3) Mark Winterbottom - Ford Performance Racing
4) Tim Slade - Stone Brothers Racing
5) Russell Ingall - Morris Motorsport
7) Will Davison - Ford Performance Racing
11) Paul Dumbrell - Ford Performance Racing
2011 V8 SUPERCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
DRIVER POINTS AFTER RACE 13
1) Jamie Whincup - Triple Eight: 1395 points
2) Craig Lowndes - Triple Eight: 1239
3) Shane van Gisbergen - Stone Brothers Racing: 1134
4) Rick Kelly - Kelly Racing: 1082
5) Steven Johnson - Dick Johnson Racing: 1030
6) Will Davison - Ford Performance Racing: 1020
9) Mark Winterbottom - Ford Performance Racing: 961
19) Paul Dumbrell - Ford Performance Racing: 616
2011 V8 SUPERCAR CHAMPIONSHIP
TEAM POINTS AFTER RACE 12
1) Triple Eight: 2659 points
2) Stone Brothers Racing: 2122
3) Ford Performance Racing: 2006