Stone Brothers Racing's Marcos Ambrose and Russell Ingall both finished in the top five of today's opening race of the BigPond Grand Finale at Phillip Island in Victoria.

Ambrose looked a race winner in his Pirtek Falcon before a delaminated tyre saw him drop back to third in the dying stages of the 23-lap race.

Ingall did his championship hopes no harm when he finished a strong fifth in his Caltex Falcon after starting eighth on the grid.

The race was won by Ford driver Craig Lowndes from Holden's Garth Tander.

Ingall now leads Lowndes by 41 points in the championship with two 32-lap races remaining tomorrow. Ingall needs to finish within 10 spots of Lowndes in the last two races to collect his maiden V8 Supercar crown.

Today's results also mean that the driver's championship in now only a mathematical race between fellow Ford drivers Ingall, Lowndes and Ambrose.

Ingall now leads the championship with 1810 points from Lowndes (1769), Ambrose (1728), Kelly (1672) and Mark Skaife (1658)

Ford need to win this weekend's round to claim the manufacturers' championship. To date both Ford and Holden have won six rounds each in this year's title chase.

Lowndes claimed pole position earlier in the day by just 0.006 of a second from Ambrose, who is having his last start in the V8 Supercar series before heading to the US next season to drive in the NASCAR truck series.

Ingall was 10th after qualifying, but picked up two spots in the shootout to start eighth.

Ingall improved one position at the start and was involved in a serious battle with Steve Richards in the opening laps before deciding to pit on lap six.

On lap 11 Todd Kelly and Richards had a coming together at turn two which took both of them off the track and Ingall grabbed another couple of spots.

A lap later Jason Bright also had an "off" after damaging his front bumper and Ingall claimed fifth spot, which he managed to hold to the chequered flag.

Ambrose basically claimed the lead after a four-second pit stop for two rear tyres on lap seven.

The two-time and defending champion was passed by Lowndes on lap 15 at MG and a delaminated tyre meant that Ambrose could not hold-off Tander any longer on lap 20.


"We are all saying it is up to Russell to loose it, not for us to win it, but the priority is for Ford to win this weekend and the manufacturers' championship," said Ambrose.

"We had our chance to win the race today, especially after a great pit stop from the Pirtek crew, but it got away from us. Thankfully we managed to finish in the top three and be in a position to make use of some positive changes overnight.

"We delaminated a tyre and I could not hold up Craig (Lowndes) or Garth (Tander) any longer towards the end of the race.

"I was not worrying about championship points, I just want to try and win the round and go out on a high.

"One lap Craig (Lowndes) tried to pass me at MG and I thought to myself 'he has to try harder than that' -- the next lap he did!

"I was about five seconds from coming into the pits because I could feel the tyre getting worse.

"For me the priority is to ensure that Ford finish 1-2-3 in the championship."

"That was not a bad result for us," said Ingall. "I think the track will continue to come to us more tomorrow.

"We have a little bit of push and if we can tune that out we will have a rocket ship for the final two races.

"I was having a decent go, but Richo (Steve Richards) was not doing me any favours and I actually caught a bit of dirt on the straight a couple of times.

"The Caltex crew pulled me in to avoid anything happening between us.

"I think they know me pretty well and knew a circuit breaker in my head was about to pop.

"When Todd (Kelly) went down the inside of Richo at turn two I was going to follow him through, but then they got together and I drove past to pick up a couple of spots.

"We just need to keep the momentum going tomorrow before we start making any room for the trophy."