When does getting physical on the track cross a line?
The FPR driver has never had a moments doubt about taking a risk to go for a win. But when does it cross the line?
It was at Phillip Island last year as the sun was setting on the 2013 championship season that Ford Performance Racing (FPR) driver, Mark Winterbottom, was involved in a much disputed and controversial dust-up with Craig Lowndes of Red Bull Racing Australia.
The quarrel, which ended with Lowndes getting a punt off the track and ‘Frosty’ getting off penalty-free, highlighted how heated the level of competition can get on the field of the V8 Supercars Series. While most drivers shy away from (and look down on) “intentional” contact, the FPR driver recently stated that if he finds himself in that situation again, “I’d do exactly the same thing”.
The will to fight
Many would argue that Winterbottom’s fight isn’t with Lowndes but with his Red Bull teammate, Jamie Whincup, who now leads ‘Frosty’ by an unprecedented margin. But to Winterbottom, if he were to find himself in the same spot again, it wouldn’t matter if it were Lowndes, Whincup, Mostert (his own teammate), Tander, your grandmother or a burning bush in the desert.
Says Winterbottom, “Same position, whoever it is I’ll be doing the same thing, so whatever happens, happens”.
Is his stance a bad thing?
Anyone who calls him or herself a fan of motorsports knows that there is an inherent risk involved when racing door-to-door with other cars at high speeds. It always has been and always will be part of the game. However, the ‘real’ danger comes when you have a driver who allows the will to win to trump safety. At that point, a driver is willing to do anything (or drive over anyone) to win. But is that necessarily a bad thing?
In NASCAR today, the series seems to be in a phase where the classic ‘door banging’ from the days of old is only seen when a small contingent of drivers are put in an intense situation. Where it once thrived and was loved by drivers and fans alike, contact between cars is now looked down on as being ‘reckless’. This writer has even heard someone stoop so low as to call it ‘bullying’.
Bad driver or badass?
‘Frosty’ has been involved in his fair share of battles in recent years. Many of these altercations have left some people shaking their heads but can you really fault the man for giving it a go?
“You’re a good sport about it, but if you have to push the limits to get past someone, you’re going to push the limits," Winterbottom once said.
Being fully aware that controversy in the world of motorsports brings with it international attention, ‘Frosty’ may actually be helping the sport of V8 Supercars by adding some excellent highlight reel scenes for the international audiences. It could then be argued that Winterbottom is a true bad-ass for the way that he drives. Going for the gaps, fighting for position, battling for the win…that’s what we all want to see, right?
Some, on the other hand, can argue that Winterbottom is hurting the sport by displaying it as a free-for-all where you can just punt anyone who gets in your way. This, in fact, may lead people to not take it seriously. While this writer personally dismisses this notion, one may find it better to see drivers having at it out on the track instead of in the pits after the race like a bunch of kindergarteners in a playground brawl.
Are you not entertained?
While no team wants to burn the midnight oil by repairing bent fenders and no true fan wants to see their driver get hurt, what they do want to see is action.
I’m talking door-to-door battle between mechanical goliaths as they brawl like gladiators. One of the best examples of this was the final lap duel between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keslowski at Watkins Glen in 2012 which saw Ambrose punch and kick his way past his adversary for the win.
The V8 Supercars Series is known for its epic battles and it’s this writer’s opinion that the sport is the best and most exciting form of professional motorsports in the world. The cars are tough and the ones who drive them are the great ironclad warriors who will step on your neck to get past you and then shake your hand when it’s all done. It’s what made this sport what it is today and with Australia’s prodigal son, Marcos Ambrose, returning to the series next year, you can bet that he’ll be giving everyone, including ‘Frosty’ a run for his money.