Ford Performance Racing team principal Tim Edwards is adamant that his squad made important steps towards improving its one-lap speed in Sydney, despite a string of disappointing results.
The deficit comes due to a slump in form that has seen Whincup enjoy a 321 point swing against Winterbottom over just three events.
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The #5 Pepsi Max Falcon qualified no better than 15th across the three sessions at Sydney Motorsport Park; continuing the driver's single-lap struggles from recent meetings.
Winterbottom has qualified in the top 10 for just two of the last nine races, managing an average starting position of 13.6 from the Townsville, Ipswich and Sydney rounds.
The poor grid positions, and a penalty for tipping team-mate David Reynolds into a spin early in Race 28, contributed to finishes of just 11th, 12th and 20th across the weekend.
“There's a long way to go,” Edwards told Speedcafe.com of the championship picture.
“It was only four or five rounds ago that Triple Eight was struggling.
“We've got the belief in ourselves that we're going to be able to work through it.
“We're learning all the time and we learnt some good things (on Sunday) about the car.
“We're absolutely not giving up on the championship and I still think we've got a very good shot at it.”
According to Edwards, Winterbottom had “followed a similar set-up direction” to team-mate Chaz Mostert on Sunday.
Mostert has out-performed his more experienced team-mate over recent events, finishing ahead in four of the last five races.
“We'd made some major changes to the car overnight and it was a lot better,” explained Edwards of Winterbottom's fortunes on Sunday.
“Unfortunately qualifying was one-lap (on soft tyres) and he made a mistake on the last corner and dropped a couple of tenths.
“If not for that we would have been looking at qualifying in fifth place, meaning we'd have three cars in the top 10.
“We're much happier with the qualifying pace of the car, even though the result didn't prove it.
“It's definitely a good direction.”
Edwards was meanwhile incensed by the decision to immediately issue Winterbottom a drive-through for the hit on Reynolds, which triggered an incident that heavily damaged The Bottle-O Falcon and the Dick Johnson Racing entry of Scott Pye.
Edwards believes that officials should have waited until after the race to make a call, allowing full reviews of in-car video and data recordings to take place.
“I totally disagree with the penalty, more so because of the lack of investigation,” said Edwards.
“If it was investigated fully after the race once you've got the data and vision from all the cars, then you're fully informed, and I'd have no issue with the penalty.
“But to make that decision with that lack of information is just unacceptable.”
Winterbottom labelled the decision “bullshit” over his team radio as he took the penalty, and post-race remained adamant of that an injustice had occurred.
“I have never seen a start penalty where there are multiple cars involved not reviewed post-race,” he said.
“Dave had half a moment and someone was in the side of him and in the back of me and the whole thing was a big concertina.
“There were moments (on Saturday) that were the same thing and they reviewed them post-race.
“The stewards were just reacting to an incident that had a dramatic consequence.”
While FPR will join a multi-car test next week at Winton Motor Raceway, Edwards says his squad will be largely focussed on making its four co-drivers – including Winterbottom's new-for-2014 partner Steve Owen – comfortable in the cars.
“That test will inevitably be more of a co-driver test than a performance test,” he said.
“We will spend part of the day working on some of the set-up stuff we did on Sunday, but we've got to get the co-drivers comfortable.
“They have a whole sprint race to themselves at Saturday as well, so there's plenty for them to do.”
Dean Canto was also scheduled to cut laps before Reynolds' Sunday crash triggered a change of plan.