The ongoing speculation as to who would be Mark Winterbottom’s co-driver for the three-round Pirtek Endurance Cup later in the year was confirmed recently.
Steven Richards has landed the plum ride at the totally revamped Charlie Schwerkolt-owned Irwin Racing team which has just taken delivery of a new Commodore built by the Triple Eight Holden Race Team.
Winterbottom has only ever driven Ford Falcons since he joined the championship in 2003 and has spent the past 13 years with what is now known as Tickford Ford Racing.
His decision to make the switch raised more than a few eyebrows, particularly as the single-car Schwerkolt entry had failed to score any reasonable results up until the end of 2018.
From Winterbottom’s perspective he really needed to make a change with his previous team unable to provide him with a race car to compete with the front runners.
Clearly the 2015 Supercars champion was very frustrated, bearing in mind his last race win was at Pukekohe in 2016 and since then there have been 62 races with only one second place to show for it.
This from a driver who has made 465 Supercar race starts for 38 wins,144 podium finishes and scored 33 pole positions.
Obviously this year is going to be a massive challenge for both Winterbottom and the team but he is moving from a team that was trying to run four cars, which in itself presented issues and made it more difficult to be competitive.
Running a single car has in the past been very restrictive as the team would not have another team car to compare set up data with, but in this case there will be a technical alliance with 888/HRT.
Since the announcement that Winterbottom would move to a new team in a couple of interviews I have seen ‘Frosty’ seemed genuinely excited by the challenge and clearly was far more relaxed.
At the anticipated co-driver announcement it was obvious he was looking forward to having Richards as his co-driver as they had previously teamed up to win the Bathurst 1000 in 2013.
Richards had been left without a co-driver role when 888/HRT decided to move to a two-car operation with the semi-retired Craig Lowndes named as co-driver for the three endurance races with seven-time champion Jamie Whincup.
The Winterbottom/Richards pairing was only announced last week but in actual fact the arrangement had been locked in some weeks ago with the 46-year-old Richards grabbing the opportunity when it was offered.
Subsequently 888/HRT boss Roland Dane found that his choice of co-driver for Shane Van Gisbergen was unavailable but he was able to grab Garth Tander who had been dumped by Garry Rogers Motorsport.
Steven Richards has landed the plum ride ...
Are you still with me?
Richards ended his full-time driving in the Supercars championship in 2010 and for the next three years was co-driver with Mark Winterbottom so now the old firm is back together.
From 2014 to 2018 Richards was contracted by 888/HRT to co-drive with Craig Lowndes and it proved to be a very strong combination, winning the Bathurst 1000 in 2015 and 2018.
Richards had previously won the Bathurst 1000 in 1998 with Jason Bright in a Ford Falcon and then again in 1999 with Greg Murphy in a Holden Commodore, so from 24 Supercar starts at Bathurst he has recorded five wins.
To put that in perspective Peter Brock is on top with nine, Jim Richards and Craig Lowndes on seven, Larry Perkins and Mark Skaife on six and Steven Richards on five.
In addition Richards won the Bathurst 24-hour race in 2002 in a 7.0-litre Monaro with Garth Tander, Cameron McConville and Nathan Pretty and finished second the next year in the same car with the same team mates.
From an experience perspective Richards has proved to be a very handy co-driver and lining up with Winterbottom for the three endurance races will make them a very competitive combination.
Apart from his success at Bathurst Richards has contested 451 Supercar races for nine wins and 57 podium finishes during his full-time Supercars career.
Thursday February 14 there will be an official Supercars test day at Phillip Island where all teams are expected to attend even though it is not compulsory.
So far Winterbottom has only completed the maximum allowed ten laps of shakedown in the new car at Queensland Raceway, so next week after spending all those years racing Fords his first run in anger in a Holden will be interesting to say the least.
This will be the only chance to establish how the new mandated single-spring damper suspension arrangement compares with the previous twin-spring arrangement, and with the first round of the championship, the Superloop Adelaide 500, only two weeks away, and each of the two, 250-kilometre races worth 150 points, a good result is essential.