Supercars veteran Jamie Whincup says he has nothing but respect for Mark Winterbottom after making the toughest decision of his career to leave long-term home Tickford Racing.
Winterbottom stunned pit lane in Pukekohe by announcing 2018 would be his 13th and last season with the team.
It could also be a 16th and last season with Ford – which would end the longest running current driver-manufacturer association in the sport.
That separation is yet to be confirmed, with Winterbottom saying he is mulling over a number of options he hopes to confirm in coming weeks.
One appears to be replacing Lee Holdsworth with Team18, though Winterbottom is eager not to be drawn on his future.
Whincup, sitting next to Winterbottom after the pair had both finished in the top three drivers in Friday’s practice in New Zealand, said the change-up took guts.
“I respect anyone that makes the big calls,” he said.
“It’s hard. It’s easy to stay where you are and keep doing what you’re doing.
“People that recognise that they need change and make the big call, generally, more often than not, it’s one step back and two steps forward.”
Winterbottom says he’s been humbled by the personal support from fans but there’s no doubt a section of Winterbottom’s support will cut ties should he leave the Blue Oval.
Whincup is no stranger to crossing the Ford-Holden divide, although his move had come in very different circumstances.
His own long-term outfit Triple Eight switched from running Falcons to Commodores after his championship-winning 2009 season.
Whincup suggested if Winterbottom believed he had a better chance of winning races elsewhere, he should follow his team’s lead.
“We made the change and there is a passionate fan base, as Mark speaks about,” he said.
“But we are here first and foremost to go racing and win races so we make decisions to make sure that keeps happening.”