The Holden Racing Team won its third Shell Touring Car Series in succession, when HRT's Mark Skaife and Craig Lowndes brought home their Holden Commodore in sixth place overall at the FAI 1000 at Bathurst on Sunday. The finishing position was enough to seal the Championship for Skaife and third place in the Series for Lowndes, and with Lowndes' victories in 1996, '98 and '99, Holden Racing Team has taken four titles in five years.
The Holden Young Lions Todd Kelly and Nathan Pretty finished fifth and the Euro duo of Jason Plato and Yvan Muller tenth overall, giving Holden's factory team three cars in the top ten.
The "Lion" was roaring after Garth Tander and Jason Bargwanna survived one of the toughest Bathurst enduro events ever in their Commodore to win the race by two-and-a-half seconds over the Ford of Paul Radisich and Jason Bright. Third went to another Holden, that of last year's winner Greg Murphy and Steven Richards.
The weather that had played so much a part in the week's events, conspired to make Sunday's 161 laps of the Mount Panorama one of the most intriguing yet. The race started out with a wet track, was dry by lap 32 before the rain intervened about lap 120. However a drying circuit had the field back in for "slick" tyres by lap 138.
As usual with Bathurst, opportunities and chances came and went. Pole sitter Wayne Gardner and co-driver Neal Bates were strong early and led for the first 30-odd laps, but the second of the Fords ended its race in the sand at McPhillamy Park. Tony Longhurst was another to have a remarkable run in the Ford he shared with David Besnard. Despite something like eight pit stops, the car looked like taking the race before a broken front suspension sidelined the it with nine laps remaining.
It was a similar scenario for the Holden Commodore of Skaife and Lowndes. Carefully timed pit stops and top driving saw the car near, or in, the lead for a great part of the race. However on lap 114, the lapped Holden of Englishman Matt Neal - driving with Paul Morris - tangled with Neil Crompton (Ford) as well as Skaife, costing the Crompton/Seton car three laps for repairs and a blown tyre for the number one HRT car. That effectively ended a double celebration for HRT.
It was a tough initiation to V8 Supercars for HRT's "imports" Jason Plato and Yvan Muller. Too few laps in practice and almost none in the dry made for a difficult day. Also, the odd excursion off the circuit by both drivers and a "beaching" by Plato at Murray's corner cost the pair two laps. They recovered to finish tenth, with Yvan Muller saying: "I must come back and experience this race in the dry!"
<pre> Bathurst 1000 results:
1 Garth Trander/Jason Bargwanna Holden 7h 23m 30.2s
2 Paul Radisich/Jason Bright Ford 7:23:32.6
3 Steven Richards/Greg Murphy Holden 7:23:35.3
4 Steven Johnson/Cameron McLean Ford 7:23:35.9
5 Nathan Pretty/Todd Kelly Holden 7:23:55.9
6 Craig Lowndes/Mark Skaife Holden 7:24:29.7
Australian V8 Supercars - final positions:
1 Mark Skaife Holden 1570 points 2 Garth Tander Holden 1433 3 Craig Lowndes Holden 1310 4 Paul Radisich Ford 1260 5 Glenn Seton Ford 1133 6 Greg Murphy Holden 1108