Our local students got quite a surprise when they were taking part in their life saving activities at Stockton beach when they got to meet former champion, Mark Winterbottom.
The 36-year-old Prodrive Racing pilot spent Tuesday morning meeting students from Singleton Heights Public School at Stockton beach and viewing the city’s new street track from the back of a jet ski in the harbour.
Stockton and Nobbys surf clubs and the Hunter rescue helicopter are the race’s charity partners and will share the proceeds of a Supercars breakfast on Thursday morning.
He says Newcastle has been “starving” for a big sport event such as this weekend’s Supercars race.
Asked about residents who were against the race being held through Newcastle East, Winterbottom said: “This city, seeing the turnout they’ve had, the ticket sales, they’re starving for something big, so it’s a minority that’s against it, which is unfortunate.
“We’d love everyone to be on board, but the amount of support we’ve had has far outweighed any negative.
“It’s a professional sport. We’re not hicks who come in and just race and get out. You’ll always get some people against it, but at the end of the day I think we’re doing a good job for the town.”
Winterbottom, who is nicknamed “Frosty”, was mobbed by the Singleton students on the sand and joined them in wading along the shore in his race suit.
“Half the kids are going to the race. It draws not just from Newcastle but from the region,” he said.
“To see kids that haven’t seen a race first-hand, and will get that taste on the weekend for the first time, that’s what it’s about.
“They’re excited. They treat you like a rock star.”
Winterbottom won the 2015 championship but has struggled this year and sits eighth on the standings before this week’s final round.
He was involved in some of the early planning for the Newcastle 500 track and said he was keen to see for himself how it had turned out from a racing and aesthetic viewpoint.
”You sort of want to see your work unfold,” he said.
“We go straight up through the heart of the city. The elevation up Watt Street is probably the most spectacular thing. The TV’s not going to [show] how much elevation that place has got.
“That’s going to be the toughest part of the circuit. That’s going to be where it all happens, turn two into turn three.
“We looked to go halfway up the hill and turn left [into King Street], so to go all the way to the top really showcases the city.
“The way it turned out was picture perfect.
“People think of it as a shipping town, but there’s so much of this place our sport will showcase.”
Race organisers says about 4000 school children will attend the race for free on Friday as part of its Students On Track educational program.