Round 13 SandownV8 Ultimate, VIC
30 November 2 December, 2001
Battle Of The V8 Bridesmaids
While Mark Skaife heads to Sandown for the last round of the season this weekend safe in the knowledge that the 2001 Shell Series crown is his, the battle for 'best of the rest' is going down to the wire with at least three drivers vying for the runner-up position.
Russell Ingall is currently second, with an 85-point advantage over Skaife's HRT teammate, Jason Bright and in third place, another 73 points further back, is Greg Murphy. The highest ranked Ford driver is Steven Johnson in fifth, 122 points behind Murphy.
With a maximum of 288 points up for grabs during the 3 x 150km race schedule at the V8 Ultimate, that order could be shuffled by Sunday night.
If Ingall maintains station after the weekend's racing, the Castrol Holden driver will set an unenviable record as the man with the most runner up championship finishes without having won a title. He was also runner-up in 1998 and 1999.
"I might have to get myself fitted out for a bridesmaid's gown soon," he joked. "It should be pretty willing racing this weekend. There will be a lot of guys out there keen to finish off the year with a good result and the first corner at Sandown can claim a few victims, especially if everyone is desperate to get through there in front of all the other cars. The fans will be entertained, that's for sure."
Having led the Series through the first half of the year and mounting the most concerted challenge to Skaife, Bright's misfortune at Bathurst snuffed out his championship dream and relegated him to a fight for the minor placings.
"I would have liked to have won the Series rather than being in a fight for second. We had some misfortune at Bathurst and that put an end to my title hopes," he said. "It is a shame that one event is so points rich that it can have that effect, but that is the situation I find myself in so we will be working hard to get past Russell this weekend and try to secure a 1-2 finish for the team. No team has managed that since 1993."
Murphy has been a late season charger with four consecutive podium results in the last four rounds in his Kmart Holden, including his resounding and emotional 'home' victory last time out in New Zealand.
"I was really surprised at the speed advantage my car had in New Zealand. I can't really explain why we had it but I would like it the same this weekend," he said. "Skaife's got nothing to lose now so he will be putting everything right on the line and I think there will be a few other guys out there throwing caution to the wind so it could make things pretty interesting for those of us chasing a valuable championship position."
Johnson was the surprise packet of the year, sitting as high as second during the season and putting some real heat on Skaife before dropping away a little in recent rounds. He has some hopes of carrying the Ford flag a spot or two higher this weekend in his Shell Helix entry.
"While I'm happy to be the best-placed Ford driver I'm not happy with fifth in the points, so at Sandown I really want to try and move up a spot or two in the final points table," Johnson said. "To do that I have to win, so my aim is pretty clear."
As well as the contenders for the minor placings, there will be plenty of other drivers eyeing this round as a last chance to stamp their mark on season 2001.
Paul Radisich was touted as Ford's brightest hope for the season after breaking a lengthy Holden winning streak at the 2000 Sandown round, but misfortune has dogged him and his number 18 Shell Helix Falcon. Nonetheless, flashes of brilliance from the 'Rat' during the year make him a hot contender for back-to-back Sandown glory.
"We started this season as one of the favourites but for one reason or another it hasn't worked out that way so I'm certainly hoping for more at Sandown. Our car was brilliant there last year and we've come a long way with its development since, so the base line will be strong. It's just a matter of how much progress everyone else has made," Radisich said. "With the championship now settled, the big winners will be the fans who'll see everyone really go for it."
Craig Lowndes' high profile defection from Holden to Ford has made for a mixed year for the triple champion who, despite some good early season results, finds himself in unfamiliar territory 14th place on the points table. He returns to the circuit where he won three times for HRT.
"This weekend at Sandown I'm hoping to give our fans a taste of things to come next year," Lowndes said. "While this year has been all about testing and development, next year is all about results. There's no doubt that we've faced our fair share of challenges this year, but I can honestly say that I've enjoyed every minute of it."
After coming so close to pinching the 2000 title, Garth Tander has endured a horror 2001 with his Valvoline Cummins Holden, for one reason or another, incapable of consistently running with the leaders. A victory in this last round would be some consolation to the talented West Australian.
Of even greater significance would be a victory to Tickford Ford racer, Glenn Seton. The dual champion is facing his 52nd start since his last round win at Eastern Creek in 1997. If he can break through this weekend, he would become the tenth different round winner for the year, a Shell Series record.
With a champion eager to impress and a host of rivals grasping for their share of the glory, the Sandown V8 Ultimate is sure to provide its fair dose of V8 Supercar thrills, on show for the last time in 2001.
Shell Series Points Overall after 12 rounds:
1)Skaife - 3290
2)Ingall - 2720
3)Bright - 2635
4)Murphy - 2562
5)Johnson - 2440
6)Kelly - 2231
7)Radisich - 2005
9)Ellery - 1936
10)Ambrose - 1873
11)T.Longhurst - 1814
12)S.Richards - 1806
13)Perkins - 1753
14)Lowndes - 1749
15)Seton - 1698
Sandown V8 Supercar action at a glance:
Friday: Pre Qualifying 9.45-10am / Provisional Qualifying 3.05-4pm
Saturday: Top 15 Shootout 10.05-11.35am / Race 1 (48 laps) 4pm
Sunday: Race 2 (48 laps) 12.45pm / Race 3 (48 laps) 4.50pm
Compulsory Pit Stops: 1 stop for tyres between laps 2-35 in each race