The V8 Supercar series returned to Symmons Plains in country Tasmania for the first time since 1999 this weekend.
Defending champion Marcos Ambrose in the Stone Bros Pirtek Ford raced here yesterday for the first time in front of his home crowd and managed to grab second place behind Rick Kelly in the K-Mart Holden Commodore. Kelly shrugged off the disappointment of the last round on the Gold Coast and a careless driving charge to claim first race honours at the Tasmania Triple Challenge on Saturday.
The Kmart driver held off home town hope and championship leader Marcos Ambrose while Kelly's brother and Holden Racing Team driver Todd Kelly rounded out the top three.
The 21 year-old was found guilty of careless driving during last month's round at Indy by the V8 Supercar Stewards yesterday and fined $5,000 and lost 50 championship points.
Kelly put all that behind him, race strategy and a lightening fast pit stop by his crew early in the race putting him at the front of the field. That, together with a brief shower in the dying stages of the race wasn't enough for Ambrose to challenge him for the lead. The weekend looked like the Kelly brothers were going to dampen the 'Devil Racers' chances of claiming his second championship. Steven Richards in the Perkins Castrol Holden, who claimed pole position in the shoot out struggled to hold 4th spot by the end of the race.
Ambrose maintained that his goal was to win the round and then hopefully from there his second championship with the Queensland based team would eventuate. Should he have been successful it would have be the first time this has been achieved since 1969 at Symmons Plains.
Fellow Ford driver Craig Lowndes in the CAT Falcon returned to the island for the first time since 1998, having previously been unbeaten in 1996 and 1998 whilst driving for the Holden Racing Team. Lowndes claimed his first pole position in 1996 at this track and missed the 1999 race following his spectacular crash in 1999 at Calder Park. He managed to finish 6th in the first of three races, which has been promoted as the Triple Challenge.
The last time a Ford won at Symmons Plains was in 1995 when John Bowe was behind the wheel of the Dick Johnson Racing Shell Ford. Bowe wasn't on the pace during qualifying and could only grab 31st but made amends during the race crossing the line in 17th.
The second race on Sunday saw Ambrose get off the line ahead of Rick Kelly and never looked like being beaten. By half race distance he had passed half the field and the championship looked like it was in the bag, but depended on the results of Jason Bright in the PWR Commodore and Steven Richards who finished outside the top ten.
With a record crowd in attendance for any sporting event in Tasmania, Ambrose was only 42 laps away from sealing his successive title during race three. However, after only a handful of laps the normally bullet proof Ford dropped back through the field and the blue oval fans were wondering what went wrong.
By the time Ambrose got to the back straight the smoke was billowing from the rear of the car and he limped back to the pits where he drove straight into the garage. The Stone Bros crew worked frantically and lost 10 laps before Ambrose returned to the 2.4 kilometre circuit and it was apparent that the champagne was going to be put back on ice until the final round at Eastern Creek in Sydney in three weeks time.
So far as SBR were concerned, they were disappointed with the number 1 car, but were all smiles when Russell Ingall in the Caltex Havoline Ford crossed the line in second spot behind the safety car, which appeared to spend more time on the track than off. K-Mart driver Greg Murphy took the chequered flag with Steven Richards finishing 3rd. Ingall sealed the round win, his first since the Queensland 500 last year. Murphy, who now sits second in the championship is 151 points behind Ambrose and 49 ahead of Ingall.
Despite celebrations and a press conference, Holden Racing Team owner Mark Skaife who debuted his 2005 car over the weekend, was one of three teams who were rumoured to be preparing to lodge a protest. Jason Bright and David Besnard, who stepped back into the WPS Ford after missing the last round following his drive in the Walker Racing Champ Car at the Lexmark Gold Coast Indy, are claiming that the safety car was supposed to have picked him up rather than Murphy.