CALTEX DRIVER TIED FOR V8 CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD
Caltex-backed title contenders Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowndes have assured they enter tomorrow's final two races of the 2007 V8 Supercar Championship Series at Phillip Island still in the hunt, with Whincup now tied for the lead with Garth Tander, and Lowndes only 25 points adrift in third.
With both Caltex-backed TeamVodafone pilots qualifying well, Whincup and Lowndes started third and sixth on the grid respectively before powering through the first of three 27 lap sprint races this afternoon.
Despite a less-than-optimal pit stop for Whincup and late-race contact for Lowndes, both persevered to come home this afternoon in third and fourth respectively -- seeing them start tomorrow's second race side by side on the second row.
While the Triple Eight drivers had their minds on the title, the pilot of the #9 Caltex Racing Falcon Russell Ingall was putting down some strong laps towards a goal of his own.
The 2005 champion and 1997 Phillip Island round winner is focused this weekend on maintaining his running record of having never finished outside the top ten of a V8 Supercar championship since he began competing in 1996.
By finishing eighth in this afternoon's opening race after qualifying ninth, Ingall has assured that this goal remains in reach after he arrived at the Victorian circuit 11th on the series ladder.
While Ingall put in a solid and issue-free performance, his team-mate James Courtney was forced to work his way back through the field after a spin on the opening lap dropped him down the order.
After starting the race from 11th on the grid, the driver of the #4 Jeld-Wen Falcon eventually crossed the line in 12th.
Today's first of three sprint races was won by Tander, with Mark Skaife in second.
Tomorrow's race action kicks off with race two at 11.25am (AEDT) followed by the final hit-out for the championship that afternoon.
Russell Ingall -- #9 Caltex Racing Falcon "We were not too far away today but this place is so much about tyre management - the tyres deteriorate so quickly," said Ingall.
"Tander is probably the only one out there with a perfect car, maybe Skaife too. The rest of us are just making up the numbers.
"There is a whole pack of cars behind those two that are pretty close. There's only two-tenths of a second covering the next six cars.
"With a bit of tweaking we should be able to make our tyres last longer and get ourselves up to the Triple Eight cars and pluck away from there.
"It will be a big grand finale for us tomorrow."
Craig Lowndes - #888 Team Vodafone Ford Falcon "It wasn't the most ideal race but we are starting off the second row of the grid tomorrow," said Lowndes.
"I got an okay start but got caught up in the positioning at the first corner and Garth got around me. I also made a small mistake leaving the pits which cost me track position.
"Once we got past Todd (Kelly) we were able to show our pace but we will make a few changes to setup tonight to ensure we are prepared for a good fight to the end tomorrow."
Jamie Whincup - #888 Team Vodafone Ford Falcon "It was great to salvage third out of today's race as we really didn't have the pace we thought we would," said Whincup.
"There was no particular part of the track that we struggled with, but the car just didn't have a nice balance, we will study the information we have tonight and make some changes.
"I will be approaching tomorrow the same as usual and I am excited, it should be a great battle."
James Courtney -- #4 Jeld-Wen Motorsport Ford Falcon "I was hanging behind Winterbottom on the first lap and just got fired off from behind," said Courtney.
"I took a trip through the grass and ended up pretty close to the back.
"I had to make a bit of a charge through. It was a pretty good race considering the start. We are now almost back where we started.
"Qualifying this morning was a bit disappointing. I got a bit too excited on the final lap and made a mistake; I grabbed the wrong gear out of turn two and it cost us about a tenth-and-a-half and put us out of the ten.
"We'll have to do quite a bit of tweaking overnight. We will go for a set up that is easier on the tyres, particularly in race three."