Toll/HSV driver Rick Kelly was today confirmed the 2006 V8 Supercar champion following a lengthy stewards meeting in Melbourne after the final race of the season ended in controversial circumstances yesterday. Kelly and Ford's Craig Lowndes...
Toll/HSV driver Rick Kelly was today confirmed the 2006 V8 Supercar champion following a lengthy stewards meeting in Melbourne after the final race of the season ended in controversial circumstances yesterday.
Kelly and Ford's Craig Lowndes went into race three at the Phillip Island circuit on equal points after Lowndes managed to finish in front of Kelly during race two, to set up the showdown. That race itself was marred with contention when Kelly's partner, Garth Tander in the second Toll/HSV car was black flagged for 'blocking' Lowndes, no doubt allowing Kelly to catch Lowndes who had the superior speed.
Kelly earned the same penalty when he bumped Lowndes at Honda Corner causing him to collide with his brother Todd Kelly driving the Holden Racing Team #22 Commodore who was leading the field. The chain reaction resulted in Todd Kelly spinning off the track and Lowndes trapped in the middle. Alex Davison, who achieved his best results all season, had no where to go and slammed into Lowndes ending his chances of the championship title after steering problems forced him to pit three times for fresh tyres in the 32 lap event. He eventually dropping four laps to finish 29th, while Kelly finished 18th and secured the points.
It appeared that stewards deemed the 'drive through' sufficient penalty for Kelly's misdemeanour, however, once the Triple Eight Racing Team realised their prized driver was down for the count and the championship, they filed a protest. Naturally, Ford fans were furious with the decision, as they came to Phillip Island looking to Lowndes to rap up the title for Ford, making it the fourth in a row, and Lowndes' fourth also, but that wasn't to be.
Although Kelly took the provisional championship, he must have been second guessing as to what the end result might be. He certainly didn't appear confident spraying the champagne or posing with his parents, who part own the team.
Having one two Bathurst 1000 races in 2003 and 2004 with K-Mart Racing and former team-mate Greg Murphy, many pundits doubted whether the 23 year old Victorian had the tenacity to win a championship title on his own, particularly after he failed to secure a round win this season. However, the young driver from Mildura showed what he was made of by gambling with the odds and forcing his rival out of contention. Admittedly, it may have cost Kelly the championship if Lowndes didn't suffer the steering damage, but his post race statement summed it up, "Craig was being defensive and I was having a go".
Ford will have to lick their wounds over the coming months and reflect on what might have been, all of which makes for interesting racing come the first race at Adelaide in 2007.