An untimely Safety Car period cost Sirromet Wines Holden Commodore driver Paul Morris a possible top five finish in today's rain-affected second race of the 13th and final round of the V8 Supercar Championship at Eastern Creek in Sydney.
The 35-year-old Gold Coast driver, who finished ninth in yesterday's opening race, started ninth on the grid today and by lap 12 he was fifth. He then overtook the Holden Racing Team Commodore of Mark Skaife, led the race from laps 21 to 25, and remained in the top five until lap 43.
The race, originally scheduled for 64 laps, was shortened to 57 because of heavy rain and hail. Morris dropped from third to 20th in the closing stages after a pit-stop to change to wet-weather tyres. He eventually finished 20th in his VY Commodore in a time of 1-hr 49-mins 25.639-secs.
Any hopes Morris had of a top five result were eroded by the timing of a Safety Car period as he made the first of his two compulsory pit stops on lap 26. Most of his rivals in the front-running group, apart from Russell Ingall (Caltex-Havoline Ford Falcon), had already made their first pit-stop.
Morris' rivals were then able to make their second mandatory pit-stop when the Safety Car was circulating after Steve Ellery (Super Cheap Autos Ford Falcon), Steven Johnson (Shell Helix Ford Falcon), and Paul Weel (Team Brock Holden Commodore) all slid off the track.
Effectively this meant Morris had to make his second pit-stop before the 'Pit Window' closed on lap 47. He remained on the track hoping impending rain would descend, but eventually made his second pit-stop on lap 44 under racing conditions when the track was still dry and dropped back to 22nd.
A short time later rain and hail began falling, and Morris stayed on dry-weather 'slick' tyres as long as possible and improved to third. However, he could not control his Commodore in the conditions and so made a third pit-stop to change to wet-weather tyres.
Marcos Ambrose, driving a Pirtek Ford Falcon, won both races on the 4km Eastern Creek circuit. He clinched the championship title, Ford's first since 1997, with a tally of 2,085 points, with Greg Murphy second on 1,983. Morris scored 111 points at Eastern Creek and finished the championship with a tally in 1,041 in 23rd position.
PAUL MORRIS QUOTES: "This was the one that got away. If I'd made my first pit-stop for fuel a lap earlier before the Safety Car came out things might have ended up a lot better. Sometimes the Safety Car can be a help, but today it cost us. After that I stayed out as long as I could on the same set of tyres. We were hoping the rain would come before the end of the pit 'Window' because we could have made our second stop and switched to 'wets' at the same time. In this instance the rain too late so we had to stop for tyres before lap 47, and then come in again for 'wets' when the weather closed in. At the end I tried to stay out on 'slicks' hoping for a 'red' flag, but the track was too slippery. I was going so slow I was almost falling off the track, and three cars spun in front of me. We were a lot better than 20th today. It's the most competitive we've been for quite a while. The car was fast and strong both days, and importantly we were able to look after the tyres and keep doing consistent lap times."