MARK Winterbottom might be within touching distance of his first V8 Supercars championship, but he has done his best to deflect the pressure on to his nearest challengers ahead of this weekend's round in New Zealand.
Winterbottom leads by 258 points from Craig Lowndes with three rounds remaining, with 300 points on offer to the winner of the three races in Pukekohe.
And despite having a horror round on the Gold Coast two weeks ago, where he finished 23rd and 11th, Winterbottom said he was feeling quite relaxed about the situation.
"There's pressure on everyone - everyone's trying to deflect pressure onto me, but I'm 200 and whatever points ahead," he told v8supercars.com.au.
"He (Lowndes) hasn't won a championship since '99. Effectively in the modern era he's won Bathurst but he hasn't won the championship, so it's pressure on him as well.
"There's pressure on the guy in third (Dave Reynolds), there's pressure throughout the whole field - so they're trying to focus on us, but other guys are under the same, if not more, in their situations as well."
This is Winterbottom's 11th season in the Championship, and apart from the last round on the Gold Coast, has been easily his most consistent.
He has notched nine wins and 10 top-five finishes from the 27 races, saying there was no point trying to change the strategy of trying to win every race this weekend.
"We'll just keep doing what we're doing," he said.
"If we're good enough we'll win; if we make mistakes, it'll be on at Homebush.
"We just have to be smart, back ourselves and know that 10 rounds of 11 we've had very good results, so we just have to live off the good ones."
With New Zealand still basking in the glory of the All Blacks victory over the Wallabies in London last weekend, fans will be hoping one of the four Kiwi drivers in the field - Scott McLaughlin, Shane van Gisbergen, Andre Heimgartner and Fabian
Coulthard - can get more bragging rights over the Aussies. McLaughlin won his first V8 Supercars race at the Pukekohe circuit in 2013, making him the youngest race winner in the category.
"It's pretty good to head back to New Zealand and race at home - we've had lots of success here in the past and it's a pretty cool thing," he said.
"It doesn't matter if it's Ford, Holden, Volvo, Mercedes or Nissan, the fans don't care if a Kiwi's won, and that's pretty cool."
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